During assembly on Tuesday, November 24, Adam Martin ’16 spoke about valuing the moment and the people and circumstances in your life at that moment. Adam 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 and staff, John Burroughs students, family, class of 2016, and Happy Thanksgiving in advance. While I was preparing what I was going to say today, I realized that I had already had a Thanksgiving experience this week that really goes well with my topic. Just Sunday night, my mom sat me, my Dad, and my little brother, Seth, down to teach us about thankfulness. She was explaining to us that often the things that have the largest impact in our lives are the things that we overlook the most. “For instance,” she explained to my little brother, Seth, “If I were to lose my sight tomorrow, I would probably suddenly become very thankful for my eyes.” I then started to playfully tease my mom, mimicking her as an old blind grandmother, reading braille books and trying to distinguish each of her grandchildren without the use of her eyes. Apparently, this hit a little too close to home, because she turned and pointed at me and said, “Well, by that time, you’ll be 300 lbs overweight and hitting your wife.” I imagine these types of comments are what usually make people dread Thanksgiving rather than look forward to it. I hope I can relate to you all today why I actually like this holiday, despite the strange remarks it brings out of our loved ones.
"As many of you know, I’m a Mormon. If any of you have hid behind your couch or on the floor (myself included) as two guys in white shirts knocked on your door and wanted to give you a Book of Mormon, or if you have seen the Broadway hit of the same title, you know something about the fact that Mormon guys go on two-year stints called missions. Mormon girls are not expected to go, as Mormon guys are, but it is also an option for them. That being said, a mission is two years out of one’s life and can significanly impact an educational and career timeline. Also, during a mission, a missionary can only write letters to his or her family once a week and only Skype twice a year. These things considered, it came to much of my and my family’s surprise when my older sister, Madeline, announced that she wanted to and was planning on serving a mission.
"Madeline’s send off-day was January 1, and that early morning, we drove her to the airport to send her to the Missionary Training Center. We each hugged her at the gate and kind of stood there awkwardly as Madeline walked to security, looked back at us one last time, and disappeared from sight. I did have two other older siblings that had gone out West to college before, but their departures were long-expected and besides that, we knew we would see them in a few months after they left for college, and if not, they were always a phone call away. But we were unfamiliar with sending a family member off for an extended period of time, knowing communication would be sparse. We didn’t really know how to feel about or view Madeline’s departure, and her absence hadn’t begun to sink in yet. And as any emotionally confused family would do in such a moment of mixed feelings and physical exhaustion, we went to Denny’s, a fine American breakfast establishment that probably has enough grease on three Grand Slams to power the Burroughs maintenance vehicles until the science building is finally renovated. After that memorable breakfast, I went home and passed out for three hours.
"I remember waking up later that day feeling that a deep chasm had opened inside of me. I remember feeling like someone had just died. I don’t know if it was the nap, the time, or the Denny’s that triggered a realization of the impact of Madeline’s departure, but suddenly I was aware that there was no one in the room next to me. I was aware that a member of my family was gone, and wouldn’t be coming back until what suddenly seemed like a very long, almost unendurable period of time. I felt a deep sadness and a surprising feeling of regret at her leaving. You see, during my freshman year before Madeline left, we fought a lot. While we were at home, we could easily avoid each other, but we both drove to and from school everyday. Being forced in the same small space, our car rides were often full of fighting, hitting, screaming, spilling hot drinks on each other, throwing books, etc. Our relationship wasn’t very affectionate or constructive. The day she left, I immediately noticed that I never expressed to Madeline how much I actually valued our relationship. I had never expressed how thankful I was for her companionship, and I wouldn’t be able to do so face to face for a year and a half. I felt extreme regret at not having communicated with her or trying to mend our relationship before she left.
"My sister’s leaving taught me a few things:
"One: Nothing is permanent. It’s depressing and hard to accept, but everything fades eventually. Friends move farther and farther away, family members closer and closer to our age pass away, and one day, we do too. Over time, the grandest castles become ruins, the most beautiful languages become whispers, the bravest people fade into the dusty annals of time. We can’t count on everything always being there, because, let’s face it, it’s not. I imagine part of what I felt when my sister left could be what our senior class could feel after graduation, when we not only realize that we have left many of our friends, but that the amazing environment we had here at Burroughs was pretty unique; that the unseen but real support system we had here will have let us go. Come graduation, we all must depart and forge our own paths in the world, some of us without the special and concerned assistance of great institutions like this one to guide us in the right direction.
"Two: I have to savor everything while it’s in my reach, both things that I see as good and those I see as bad. It’s very easy to be grateful for things right in front of us. At my Thanksgiving dinner table, my family has the tradition of going around and each saying something they are grateful for. Most answers are along the lines of family, food, God and country. These answers, I think, are so frequently repeated because they’re so obvious, especially in light of a holiday that ties all four together so blatantly. Less frequent answers are those that acknowledge the seemingly invisible systems that quietly, but effectively make our lives possible. An example of this was when my younger cousin, Bella Strawbridge, declared without hesitation at the Thanksgiving table that she was grateful for “indoor plumbing," which suddenly made the turkey seem that much less appetizing. And answers even less frequent are those that include misfortune and damaged relationships. How is it even possible to be grateful for those things? Like my relationship with my sibling, I didn’t realize at the time how much she meant to me until she left, while when she was home I could think of nothing else that could solve our problems besides her leaving. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I realized that I can’t let unfortunate situations escape my grasp without trying to fix them. Everything will leave eventually, and it’s up to us in this very moment to either enjoy those things while they last, or to make them enjoyable.
"As the holidays draw closer, as Thanksgiving brings friends and family together from all over this nation and beyond, let’s all be grateful and cherish those that are not only close to our hearts, but also distant.
Thanksgiving can be a time of thankfulness for what we already have, but, as I learned,
it can be a time where we tell each other how much we really value one another. It can be a time
where we acknowledge that what we have is fleeting, which, in my opinion,
makes those things even more valuable.
It can be a time to mend, a time to draw closer to each other, a time to make something worth being thankful for. And, still importantly, it can be a time where we can gorge on a sumptuous smorgasbord laid before us as was for the early Americans.
"So, in spirit of the upcoming holiday, I express my thanks. To this school, my class, my teachers, my country, my family, and my God: thank you. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.