Saturday, June 9, 2012

It was thirty-three years ago today

It was June 9, 9:30 a.m., in the Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center. The year was 1979.

Thirty-three years ago today, I graduated with my fellow classmates from Cardinal Dougherty High School, in the Olney section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

All graduates are happy on their big day. I was especially excited and happy since it was my privilege to deliver the valedictory address to all my fellow students and their guests.

The term “valedictorian” comes from the Latin phrase, “vale dicere,” which means, “to say farewell.” A valedictorian address is the final farewell to classmates, usually including messages of nostalgia and thanks, along with inspirational tones urging the class to go out into the "real world" and begin their new life, wherever that may take them.

Our senior class consisted of 1060 students since our Roman Catholic high school was one of the largest in the country. Our school building was too small to hold the graduating class and all their guests, so our ceremony took place at the aforementioned Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center.

The large civic center could certainly hold us all with a capacity up to 12,000. I remember the nun who worked with me while I practiced my speech delivery letting me know that very likely there would be at least 10,000 people in attendance. Not trying to spook me or anything she was.

You figure, with almost 1100 students, along with faculty, that leaves about eight to ten guests for each graduate, easy to attain when including parents, grandparents, and siblings, especially with all the large Catholic families that made up the school. Heck, unlike today's graduations, there was no need for an imposed guest limit or required tickets since our venue was so large. I even remember my aunts, uncles, and cousins attending to hear my address.

Looking up the Philadelphia Convention and Civic Center now on Wikipedia, I find some facts I don't know if I ever knew.

The large hall held Democratic and Republic National Conventions, and President Lyndon B. Johnson had spoken there for a campaign appearance on August 29, 1964. Four days later, The Beatles, my favorite band of all time, played the venue on September 2, 1964, during their first tour of the United States. I didn't know I stood where Paul, John, George, and Ringo did! A year later, the Rolling Stones played there during their third American tour. That's also cool!

I'm most fascinated and honored to know that Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela all spoke there also. I don't think I ever knew that I stood at a podium on a stage where these admired minds and famous feet had stood. I'm amazed and thrilled by that information new to me.

And how did I get there on that stage? I can see myself in my mind's eye working on the humble beginnings of my valedictory speech, sprawled across my twin bed in the room of my childhood home, scrawling my ideas on theme tablet in pen, with lots of crossing out and corrections and additions in the margins.

I also fondly remember researching my speech. I remember going to the school library to hunt for inspirational quotes. Remember, in 1979 there was no Internet with vast quantities of information at our fingertips.

So fast forward to 2012. Knowing today was the class of 1979's graduation anniversary, I hunted in my basement for what I remember was a box of collected lifetime memories to find my valedictory speech, to share with you today what I had thought was important to share with my fellow classmates thirty-three years ago.

I've always remembered my opening line and the gist of the address, but this is the first time in very many years that I've held and read the copy I took up with me on stage that day.

Reading this speech, typed out in very large font on erasable paper and triple-spaced for easy reading at the podium in the event my memory failed with the adrenaline of the moment, I'm fascinated by how much I've changed since 1979 and yet how much I am the same.

I still seek out and love perusing quotes that mean something to me to this day. And there are themes in this speech I must have been interested in then that I am still thinking about today. Those who know me best will recognize those themes.

I remember being called to the podium to give the farewell address before the academic awards were presented and diplomas were conferred. The stage was bright, and I looked out to a darkened, but evidently quite full house, with every seat and row filled from the floor to the ceiling. I remember the vastness of the hall that held such a large audience that I needed to address.

My goal was to warmly let each graduate know that I shared their experiences, good times and bad, and through it all, we were ready for the world, all of us prepared to face whatever was ahead. And we'd never forget where we came from no matter what. Our wonderful school we affectionately called CD gave us all the tools we needed.

I originally wrote in my speech our loving school nickname, CD, but was told by the nun coaching me not to use the acronym, and to be sure to use the full name only. I knew I could say whatever I wanted once I was up on the stage, but that day the good school girl in me did what was expected and adhered to the sister's request, er, ultimatum.

I even carried out the very slow and forced diction she prescribed in pronouncing our school name, Cardinal Dougherty High School, since she advised it would all be a jumble in such a large hall otherwise. I wince when I think that I didn't just do what was natural to me and give my fellow classmates at least one "CD" reference, but I survived and so did my fellow graduates. I'm sure I'm the only one who remembers this context, so in the end, it didn't matter, but we all have our regrets.

Most rewarding that day, as I delivered my farewell address and looked out to my classmates, I could see the softly lit faces of those in the first few rows. I was touched as I saw tears streaming down their cheeks. I knew I hit a nerve within them. I struck a chord. My speech resonated with them. It was a very happy moment for me, one of my most memorable lifetime experiences.

And so I'd like to share my address again with any classmates who may like to reminisce about that special time in our lives.

In honor of and on behalf of all my fellow graduates, wherever they may be, here is my valedictory address to you from so many years ago:

Valedictorian Therese Ferretti
Cardinal Dougherty High School
Class of 1979
Your Excellency Bishop Graham, Father Trinity, members of the faculty, parents, relatives, fellow students, and friends of Cardinal Dougherty High School:

It was Virgil, the Latin scholar, who wrote, "For they can conquer who believe they can." With this note of self-confidence we can look back on our years at Cardinal Dougherty High School and realize how important they were to us.

We know that how we have spent these past four years has shaped our lives and will determine our futures. Of the four years, the last was a different experience. A change was in the air. We knew the time was coming when it would be our turn to face the challenges of life.

We've learned to read about the world in the newspapers, observe it on television, and hear it call to us on the radio. Now we are getting our chance to take part in world events. We have learned that we don't have solutions for every crisis, but we are excited about the prospects of searching for answers and the thrill of success in finding them.

We have had many experiences here at Cardinal Dougherty High School, experiences that brought growth, happiness, maturity, and even disappointment. These encounters with faculty, administration, and fellow students, bound with the love and care of our parents and families, have strengthened us and given us confidence.

With this self-confidence we find that we are prepared to attain the goals we have set for ourselves. We see one another moving from adolescence into young adulthood. However, our education does not stop here.

Whatever direction our lives take, there will always be new learning experiences. What we hope to achieve is the power to think sensibly about what is to be done and the strength and courage to do what we know is right. This is a value that has influenced us all our years and we strive to live up to it.

As we realize that we have made it through difficult and crucial years of our lives, together, at Cardinal Dougherty High School, we recognize a special bond. We hope and pray that this tie will never be forgotten or abandoned, for this bond represents one of our foremost Christian values, the value to love and to share, together.

At this time, many are saddened by the realization that this is an end.

Yes, it is, but we must also look at it as a beginning, a beginning to work our way back to each other, if not physically, mentally, because the bond holding us together is that of mind, and we can always remember in our hearts the times we have loved and shared.

Reflecting on this thought, we must go out with joy to love, to live, and to learn.

e.e. cummings expresses our gratitude for life in one of his poems:

'i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes'

Until next time, yours in good times and nostalgia...Therese

P. S. Unfortunately, our great high school, Cardinal Dougherty, was closed at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year in a wave of Archdiocesan school closures. And the Philadelphia Civic Center was torn down in 2005 after more than a decade of inactivity. Both were larger-than-life institutions in their heyday.

Schools close, buildings are demolished, and things change. But some things will never be gone, and those are the memories we all hold dear. No one can take away our memories. I remember all this like it was yesterday. And it was thirty-three years ago today. Never forget to carve out some time to enjoy your own memories.


  1. You seem no different. How great!

  2. Thanks for posting this. You were a great valedictorian!

  3. Time travel needs to become a reality.