Class Reunion Speech: Making a Difference
By: Archie Wortham

[Delivered at 35th Class Reunion, 5 July 2003, Frazier High School, Covington, TN].

First, let me say it’s an honor to be asked to speak tonight. Particularly since so many years have passed, and as Raymond told me, maybe he’d listen to me tonight. But I’ll get back to Raymond.

And I think, since tonight I was asked to speak, I’ll address three points or ideas: acknowledge, share, and knock. Keep in mind, this was Raymond’s idea. And I’ll come back to him.

By the way, one of the reasons I’m dressed like this. I didn’t think this was a masquerade party, but I figured no one would ever believe that I was I was in the military. Well I was, and as one of the pieces of metal attests, I actually jumped out of a perfectly good airplane …five times. Also that’s my son over there, not my grandson, and he and his older brother can also attest, I at least learn something from Mr. Rose’s health class, and Mr. Armstrong’s biology class…and got it right at least twice.

Now back to getting this over with, and sitting down. I mentioned there were three things I wanted go to go over. The first was to acknowledge the people responsible for us being here:

The first people to acknowledge of course are those closest to us:
-our spouses [some of us have had more than others];
-our children [some of us have had more than others];
-our bosses, again [some of us have had more than others].

But less we forget those who helped us choose our spouses, raise our kids and talk about our bosses. Those are our teachers, our mentors, many who are here tonight. Thank you, we are more as a result of you than we would have been without you.

I’m sure we all have memories of each of them…one of my memories concerns Lula Mae Toliver. Where’s Lula? Though I may have done well in class, I was so dumb in life. I never will forget, and Raymond reminded me of this, I dedicated a song to several of the teachers: “Chain of Fools.” And Lula had to write the words down for one of the teachers because as Lula put it: “I can’t believe this woman wants the words of this song because she thinks Argentina is calling her a fool.” And I certainly didn’t need anything else to make this teacher any closer to me than she already was…Anyway…thank you Lula, thank you our teachers and spouses and children, and especially you Raymond…for a lot of stuff. Like getting us here. But I’ll get back to you.

Now the story I’d like the share concerns making a difference. We all get emails. And this one was sent to me by a former student, and I’ll like to share that:

"A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time. First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters, which read, 'Who I Am Makes a Difference.'

"Afterwards the teacher decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a community. She gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom and report back to the class in about a week.

"One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him two extra ribbons and said, 'We're doing a class project on recognition, and we'd like you to go out find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened.'

"Later that day the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius.

"The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and would he give him permission to put it on him. His surprised boss said, 'Well, sure.' The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket above his heart.

"As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, 'Would you do me a favor? Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else? The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people.'

"That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, 'The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine. He thinks I'm a creative genius. Then he put this blue ribbon that says: Who I Am Makes a Difference, on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor.' As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are really hectic and when i come home I don't pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid and I love you!

"The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn't stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, 'Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom explaining why I had killed myself and asking you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just didn't think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs. I don't think I need it after all.'

"His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain. The envelope was addressed, "Mom and Dad." The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. The junior executive helped several other young people with career planning and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his being the boss's son.

"And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson. Who you are DOES make difference."

It’s been 35 years. Some of our classmates are no longer with us. Parents die, spouses leave, children grow up and hopefully leave. I’m not sure if anyone ever told any of you this, but I don’t think any of us can hear it too often. I want to give all of you a blue ribbon for being here. WHO YOU ARE MAKES A DIFFERENCE, AND I WANTED YOU TO KNOW THAT!!

And so I’m knocking on your door, for you to remember that. That’s my last point, and as I look at my son, he’s taking his cue to do something.

Raymond, a couple of us got together and wanted to let you know that you made a difference. I can only speak for myself, but I know I speak for several others….you got me, you made a difference, and here’s your blue ribbon I’m sure you can find a use for.