The following is the commencement speech I gave this afternoon at Powell County High School in my hometown of Stanton, Ky. I was a member of the Class of 1993.
The first words my mother said upon being told I’d been asked to speak today were “Please don’t embarrass me.”
Not “I’m proud” or “good luck” or even “they should’ve asked your sister instead.” Nope. Just “don’t embarrass me.”
So, to honor my mom’s wishes, I’ve made a list of topics to avoid: meth, Donald Trump, asking where the after-parties are, stories about my mom, stories about my dad and more meth.
To the person who invited me here today, I’m afraid you’ve made a huge mistake. To Superintendent Michael Tate and Principal Kendall Kearns it’s an honor to be here, but you should know Martina Skidmore is responsible for what’s to follow. To be fair, she’s been a friend since kindergarten, and I thank her for having faith in me. I hope to make my mother proud. I cannot, however, promise I won’t embarrass her. Continue reading
Nathan Brooks was born to be a middle child.
Even as a baby, he was never The Baby, long before Jon came along and assumed that still-standing title. Almost from the beginning, Nathan has been a peacemaker, a mediator, a negotiator, a giver.
This, incidentally, makes him more of a Brooks than a Hall. Granted, my knowledge of the Brooks family is pretty much limited to Troy, while my Hall history has a whole host from which to choose, but even among that sample, I’m confident in my statement.
Charles Farmer liked my dad.
Sure, many people (I think) love Doc Hall, but to like him can be something a bit more challenging. He can be any one (or combination) of the following: loud, goofy, obnoxious, stubborn and in the interest of any potential inheritance someday I’m going to stop listing them
(although to be fair, I’m really just naming things about myself since the apple and tree find themselves in close geographic proximity). Continue reading
This scrawny kid seemed to always be reading, and while I have been a reader for as long as I can possibly remember, his nose always seemed to be in stories far outside my usual realm of comfort. In sixth grade, I still found myself on a steady diet of The Three Investigators, but this guy feasted in a different world, one populated by monsters and demons, killers and ghosts.
Oh, sure, I knew about monsters – I was a huge fan of the classic Universal movies like Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. His tastes, though, ran a bit bloodier.
So when I saw Aaron Saylor flipping through Fangoria, a magazine devoted to the scariest and, well, goriest, movies and entertainment of that era (the mid-1980s), I instantly knew two things: 1) This was one weird little dude; and 2) we needed to be friends.
Almost 30 years later, both are still true.
We lined up in a yard too hilly for football but just muddy enough for 11-year-old boys. We only had a basic grasp of the rules – football as an organized sport wouldn’t come to Powell County for another two years – but we knew how to throw and run, and while we didn’t know for certain the proper ins and outs of tackling, we still hit each other as young boys do. Which is to say with a reckless abandon that comes without fear of broken limbs and lost teeth.
Battered and muddy (and no doubt exhausted), we marched back to my house for cake and presents. I’m sure Star Wars was dutifully represented in the gifts, probably He-Man, too, but only one gift clearly stands out: the Wheel of Fortune board game, oddly enough. We might have been months away from official football, but Pat Sajak and Vanna White are forever.
It was my greatest birthday.
Bobby stood guard while Jared and I buried Boba Fett in a shallow grave.
I rubbed the dirt off on my shorts as the creek, which had slowed to a trickle from the long summer days, washed away most everything else. The plastic figure was soon forgotten, lost among the afternoons sitting on the rocks, a fishing pole in one hand, a fresh-off-the-tree apple in the other. We were kids, our forevers ahead of us.
I don’t know what happened to those days or even to those boys. Life pulls us in many directions, some into pits from which escape seems impossible. I guess sometimes it is. Impossible, I mean. No matter how hard you try.
Those boys, once so much a part of my life, are now living shadows.
They’re not alone.
The battles of addiction are heavy, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched from it in some way. Maybe it’s a friend, a dad, a mom, a sister, a brother, a co-worker. It doesn’t matter who – it’s out there, it’s someone and it’s someone who is loved.
Our words carry weight, with messages both subtle and obvious. People are listening, often paying close attention, whether you know it or not.
Some choose to hide behind a message of hate, tossing off words without a care in the world who gets harmed in the process. It’s sad that all that’s being asked is tolerance; that’s not even acceptance. It’s merely the absolute least that can be provided – “yes, I tolerate you.”
There is, however, another choice.
Last week, the Georgetown News-Graphic published a column I wrote in response to a married couple’s letters to the editor bemoaning the fact that same-sex couples now share that same right to marry. The response, fortunately, was overwhelmingly positive, with friends and strangers alike sharing the love.
One, though, stood out, and it’s with the family’s permission that I share this story: