Nicholas Seay '16 was named Salutatorian for the Class of 2016. Mr. Seay will attend Standford University in the fall. The transcript of his Commencement 2016 address is included below.
I happened to be out of town during the awards ceremony. When my friend texted me and told me that I was the salutatorian, I must admit I was pretty psyched. I thought to myself, “Awesome! I won’t have to give a speech in front of thousands of people.” So…. I was pretty wrong about that part. Nevertheless I am honored to be here.
The thing I want to talk about today isn’t particularly profound, but it is important. It is a lesson I learned a few years ago, which some of you will have undoubtedly already discovered as well. However, I believe it is important to reiterate and keep in the back of our minds, especially as we all finally leave the nest and begin our various paths in college.
The lesson, put simply, is this: we must constantly reevaluate where we are in life, what we are doing, and what makes us happy. To relay this message, let me rewind all the way back to 6th grade.
When entering Middle School at McCallie, I had big plans athletically. Since I had swam and played tennis at Stuart Heights Swim and Tennis Club the past couple of summers, I decided I would play tennis in the fall and swim during the winter season. I’d played baseball all my life up to that point, so I knew I would finish out the year with spring baseball. Unfortunately, there were these new-to-me things called “cuts” in middle school, and I found that instead of being a star athlete, I was rather average. I was amazed by the speed with which the other guys were deftly serving to me in tennis tryouts and deduced through some super sleuthing that I probably would not make the cut for that team. This was okay. After all I had played tennis pretty casually. However I was a bit surprised when I didn’t make the cut for baseball.
Swimming was my saving grace. No cuts. So I swam in the fall and winter and ran track in the spring. It was at this time I found out that I liked swimming quite a lot.
Fast forward to 9th grade. By this point, I was a year-round swimmer. It had become an identity and a point of pride. Many people talk about the rigor of football and crew, but often swimming is forgotten. However, anyone who’s ever been through a practice knows that swimmers are just as tough. I had lots of fun while swimming too. But swimming at the end of every day and on Wednesday mornings started to become more of a burden for me than an opportunity.
My friends and I started doing weird things to distract ourselves and keep things interesting. Some moments that stick out are singing into snorkels while doing kicking sets and hearing nothing but tortured, bubbly moans from underwater, or counting the number of laps we’d done in the pool and acknowledging every prime numbered lap (yes, my friends are nerds too).
Once, to test our breath-holding prowess, Grayson King had the bright idea of trying to run a full lap around this very track without breathing once… I’m proud to say we made it, but don’t ask me to ever try that again. If we got bored of all of these things we just complained to each other about how long the day’s set was and that would ease the pain for a while.
Eventually though, I needed a break from the endless laps. I was burning out, my passion for swimming faded. So I and a few friends tried out rock climbing twice a week after the in-season part of swimming ended. It was here that the lesson began.
I was hooked in a matter of days. As a young child, I’d always climbed on things that I probably was not supposed to. So in the climbing gym, I felt at home, despite the unfamiliarity and awkwardness of trying to heave my body upward against nature’s will, in a particular path created by a route setter or natural rock itself.
I was pretty bad at first. In fact my friends caught on to things quicker than I did (no pun intended). My finger strength was bad after swimming for so long, and, unlike seasoned climbers, I didn’t always plan out my climb to make it as efficient as possible. But I learned fast. On the other three days a week when I was swimming, I found myself pining for the climbing gym. I felt like I was putting in the time to increase my skills, but not quite in the right area.
At one point I was talking to a friend about climbing and swimming practice, and he said something to the tune of, “Yeah, swim practices are not super fun, but you go through those because swim meets are fun, and you want to compete to your fullest potential.” Then I mentioned that though meets could be fun, I actually preferred practices. Practices just were not always fun either. He thought for a moment, and he said something like, “That’s weird. If you don’t like meets, and only sometimes enjoy practice, why do you do it? Maybe you shouldn’t.” I heard him and thought, “Not swim?… no that’s weird!” and moved on. Obviously, however, that comment stuck with me.
It was during the summer when I got a membership at a climbing gym once called Urban Rocks Gym that I fell even more deeply in love with the sport, and realized that my friend was right. Two years later and rock climbing is by far one of my favorite things to do. And I’m not bad at it.
So why did I just go through that long account of my athletic career at McCallie? I did this because I think it works rather well as a microcosm for life.
Sometimes we fall into routines and forget to ask ourselves why we are doing a certain thing in the first place. Questioning who we are, where we are, who we hang out with, and what our values and goals are, is a critical thing to do. Often doing this reconfirms what we already knew. It can renew the vigor with which we do those things, and refresh our spirits. However, sometimes we can find a flaw in the routine.
Rock climbing is a pretty niched sport, under the radar. Though there are some out there who actually know about and appreciate the sport without having tried it, many do not understand the culture or appeal of climbing. If I had not questioned my routine and done a little bit of exploring outside of that familiar swimming pool, I never would have found what is now an integral part of who I am today.
Now, I understand there is another side to this story. People often talk, as they should, about commitment and perseverance. Not giving up on what you started. But what I think people sometimes neglect to emphasize is that you have to find the right thing to commit to first, and it is okay if that takes a while. It’s almost like a marriage in that you have to choose carefully. If you explore your options in life first, you may find that your choices are that much more fulfilling, personal, and correct.
Now I know I just talked a lot about how painful swimming is, but this talk is not meant to bash swimming. Swimming is an incredibly fulfilling sport that is great for you and definitely has its fun moments. It was hard to leave the team, but competitive swimming ultimately was not for me, and I had to make the choice to pursue what made sense to me to pursue. In the words of the famous poet… Drake… “You only live once. That’s the motto.”
YOLO is not an excuse to be stupid, but it is a phrase that would be stupid to excuse.
So as you all head towards college, do not be afraid to question what you have been doing. If you find you still love where you are, fantastic. If you are a little unsure, try something new. This is the time and place to do it. Explore your campuses, find some weird clubs that you didn’t know existed. Find your niche. Once we have all done this, then we can commit to the climb.
Thanks and congratulations Class of 2016!