During assembly on Tuesday, November 25, Perry Julien '15 spoke about the meaning of Thanksgiving and what he is most thankful for — his father. Perry was selected by the senior class to speak and drew a spontaneous and lengthy standing ovation by the entire student body. His full prepared remarks and a video excerpt follow:
"Good morning Mr. Abbott, teachers, classmates, guests and Happy early Thanksgiving.
"It is truly an honor to be speaking in front of you all this morning. When I began to write this speech, I had no idea where to begin. Well, obviously it had to be about Thanksgiving, but what actually is Thanksgiving?
"Is it merely just a holiday where we Americans do what we apparently love the most and eat lots and lots of food and then fall asleep face down in some pumpkin pie while we watch the Dallas Cowboys lose on TV? Is it when spending time with family rises to the top of our agendas? Is it when we look around and give thanks to honor the people we love? Is it a time that most of us take for granted and fail to grasp the opportunity to appreciate what’s really important in life? As I sat to write this speech, all of these questions and more traveled through my head and I decided to delve into this questions later and for the moment, just to go back to basics. Thanksgiving is pretty much what it says it’s about: giving thanks. I figured out there’s a lot of things to be thankful for: Connor Krause’s mirror selfies, John Moten’s freestyles, and my luscious flow of a Greek God just to name a few. But I thought I’d talk about the person who I’m most thankful in life, my dad.
"First, I’ll begin by telling a story. I am unlike the majority of students here at Burroughs. For most of my childhood, I’ve grown up with only one parent, my dad. You might see him walking through the commons and wonder “Why is he here?” and believe me, I wonder the same thing too. Growing up with a single, same-gender parent meant that naturally, we did everything together. The bottom line is that my dad and I are pretty close.
"Throughout elementary school, my dad was fortunate enough to go on a variety of business trips and because of our situation, I got to tag along. Looking back, the trips that we have taken have turned out to be pretty special bonding experiences. However, as a rising 3rd grader, I didn’t really realize how lucky I was to have this opportunity.
"One unsuspecting summer afternoon, my dad told me we were taking a trip to a country with a weird name that I forgot instantly. The country happened to be Singapore, and the name really wasn’t that weird. When my father told me we were going on this trip, many questions that an ignorant 8 year old kid in 2005 would want to know the answer to popped into my head like: Is that even a country? Do they speak English? Do they know what English is? Why did Britney Spears shave her head? Why is Gwen Stefani teaching me how to spell banana? Why does Madonna still make music? All of a sudden, what seemed to be a lazy, joyous summer turned into what felt like a death sentence of 5 weeks with my dad in a foreign country.
"As I boarded the plane, I remember how devastated and unlucky my 3rd grade self felt as I remembered how all my friends from school would be spending their summers playing Pokemon and Yugioh while I was stuck in a country that I had never even heard of. I remember sitting on my 18 hour flight eating my airplane noodles that tasted like straight garbáge and thinking about how I would be traveling to the other side of world, away from everything I knew. As far as I was concerned, my life, as I knew it, was ending.
"Once we got to Singapore, I refused to leave the hotel room. My typical day consisted of sleeping, whining, eating McNuggets, sleeping, whining, and whining in my sleep. As my dad left the room each day, he had a somber, defeated look on his face, until, one day, as I sat in the hotel room by myself, I had an epiphany. While I was too busy worrying about me, I failed to look at things from my Dad’s point of view. Traveling across the world and visiting a country you’ve never been to isn’t easy for anyone, and he was kind enough to choose me as his ally. He didn’t do this to torture me, but rather to spend time, take on new experiences, and make memories with me. Here I was in Singapore at the age of 8 and I refused to embrace such a unique opportunity to bond with my father. As soon as I realized this, things started to turn around rather quickly. In Singapore, we learned how to use chopsticks together, how to navigate a city we’ve never been to, and how to find our way home after somehow ending up in Indonesia overnight.
"On the last day of the trip, I sat in the hotel room looking out the window and thinking about the time I had in Singapore. What seemed to be a disaster of a trip was salvaged and I ended up having a lot of fun, but I couldn’t help but be angry at myself. Looking back on the experience, I wondered why I dreaded going on the trip in the first place. How could I have been so selfish, so ignorant, so stubborn, so stupid? All along I wondered why he bothered to take me on the trip, yet the answer was so blatantly obvious. In reality, he cared about me more than I could comprehend. What I saw as just a business trip, he saw as an opportunity to show how he cherished every second of our togetherness and to show how excited he was to spend time with his son. While I thought that we could just take on the journey by ourselves, he knew that together, it would be a 1000 times meaningful. What he did for me on that trip goes beyond exposing me to the wonderful culture and lifestyle of Singapore. It was there I was reminded of what a true honor it is to have him as a father.
"Also, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have been exposed to all the wonderful things about Burroughs. But to be honest with you, just like how I wasn’t looking forward to go to on the business trip, I was skeptical about coming to Burroughs. I was the typical scared 7th grader. Yes, of course I was scared about everyone being bigger than me. But I was also scared about coming to a new school in which I only knew a select number of people. I was worried about going to school where no one would know my story and who I really was.
"One day I stepped into the commons after PE with a bag of doritos and a soda in my hands (this was back in the good ol’ days when you could buy practically a 5 course meal at the vending machines for only $1.50). Out of nowhere, I saw MJ Strawbridge flying through the commons after being tossed like a rag doll, possibly breaking his tail bone as he landed on a nearby innocent trash can. It was truly a sight to behold. After realizing that he had been catapulted by what I thought was a 35 year old (it turned out to be a rather muscular senior named Fade Oluokun), I thought this might not be the place for me. If that was me who had been tossed, my body would still be in orbit as we speak. But boy, was I wrong. People aren’t lying when they say this place is special. Just like how I came to appreciate my dad on the business trip, I came to appreciate Burroughs. At Burroughs I have met people who I would have never dreamed of meeting. I’ve met the inspiring people who have given me the skills, the confidence, and the opportunity to present this speech this morning.
"As I previously stated, the beauty of the magnificent holiday that is Thanksgiving is that there doesn’t have to be a huge, profound meaning behind it. The ideas and values that stem from this holiday are completely based on the individual, and perhaps that’s its best quality.
"But there’s one thing that I would like to say to you all: Don’t make the same mistake I almost did on the Singapore trip.
"Whether you realize it or not, there is always something to be thankful for. Recognize that the people around you care about you, and not only recognize it, be thankful for it. Whether it be your family, your friends, your teachers, or whoever, take a moment to look around and take in how lucky you are to be surrounded by people who fill your life with the opportunity to learn, to live, and to love. Be appreciative of the people around you who made you into the person you are today, and who gave you the privilege to sit in the seat you are currently in. Now I know that there is no easy way to come out and say thank you for all these things. But perhaps the greatest form of gratitude is not merely just to say “thank you”, but to take the values your friends, your loved ones, and even your acquaintances have been so lucky to bless you with and take full advantage them. And especially with all the recent events happening in this city, it is important that we stand beside each other peacefully and realize how fortunate we are to be a part of such a tight knit community. Just remember, there are people in this world who don’t have the benefit of being surrounded by people who have so much genuine care for one another as all of us do.
"When it comes to my dad, there are no words that can truly express my gratitude towards him. So how can you give back? How can you say thank you? How can you truly honor someone who has dedicated their life and has made sacrifice after sacrifice just so they could have the chance to watch you evolve into the person you are today? Do I buy him a present? No. Do I bake him a cake? No. Do I write a speech that’s mainly dedicated to him and present it in front of 700 people? Hmmm, maybe. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but that still doesn’t fulfill the obligation. It’s nearly impossible to do so. But what I can do is take a step back and recognize all that he has done for me and appreciate what a blessing it is to have such a devoted, committed father. If it weren’t for him, my 17 years on this planet wouldn’t have half as good as they have been.
"If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have the chance to say I’m part of one of the best communities there is. I wouldn’t be standing at this podium today. I wouldn’t have the chance to come up here and not only say thank you to him, but also to each individual that I’ve had the privilege to come in contact with at this school. Because if I hadn’t been exposed to such a remarkable student body and faculty, I wouldn’t have given myself the chance to shake off my normally quiet and reserved demeanor and deliver this Thanksgiving address. Being part of a community so supportive has instilled me with the confidence to be up here today.
"So on this November 25th morning, I do indeed say thank you, thank you to everyone. Thank you for the memories, the life lessons that you have taught me, and the ways you have helped me become a better person. Thank you for allowing me to be your speaker this year. It was truly a pleasure to have been given the opportunity to share my words with you today. Once again, thank you and Happy Thanksgiving."