i am who you say i am…

[here is a copy of the speech i gave to all of my high school classes, on may 21st of this year (2015)–the last day for seniors…and they seemed to like it :)]



This is one of my favorite, all-time, movie clips…and I love the line…

“You see us how you want to see us.”

That’s how it ends…but, when we first meet each of these kids in Saturday Detention they seem to fit all the common stereotypes of kids we could run into at any school–the brain, the jock, the rebel, the outcast/crazy, the rich princess, etc…

But, like life, like real life…there’s more to the story…they are more than that, more than just simple stereotypes…like most people, like you–they are a lot more complicated than that…because, as you know, people don’t always fit into convenient little boxes.

Eminem takes it up this way…

And I am, whatever you say I am

If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?

In the paper, the news every day I am

Radio won’t even play my jam

‘Cause I am, whatever you say I am

In the paper, the news every day I am

I don’t know it’s just the way I am


While I don’t hold to all the lyrics in all his songs…you can’t deny Eminem’s genius and charisma…and, there’s a truth in these lyrics for all to see; for him it reflects his personal experience—but, like all good music…it taps into something larger, it strikes a universal nerve…b-bam, bam…it may hit home with you, too…because his words reveal a truth about everyday life…and the things that people try to label you with…or try to box you in with…by using their words.

What we see, if we dare to look closer…are the layers that lie beneath the surface…like an onion, if you peel the skin back, there’s something under there, another layer…and another and another…and, in a like manner, there’s a lot more to people, to most people, than what we see on the outside…there’s a lot more to you than what people see on the outside…to you and you and you…



So, what do people see when they see you?  Who do they say you are?  Do they know you?

How do you feel when they get it wrong?  When they tag you with something that’s hurtful and mean?  When they try to label you? Try to box you in?

Are you who they say you are?

When someone says something hurtful about you, about “who you are”—it’s like getting punched in the gut.  It’s like getting the wind knocked out of you.

Have you ever had that experience?  Been knocked down?  Struggled, fought to catch your breath?

Well, words can do that, too.  Harmful words can knock the wind out of you.  Make you lose your breath.  You have to breath to live, right?!  So, if breath is life, then what we’re talking about is pretty serious.

Words can take life away.

And, of course…

The opposite is true, too…for good words.

When someone says something good about you, about “who you are”—it’s like getting a boost, it’s the best transfusion, the most amazing injection of spirit that you can get…one that propels you forward in aliveness.

Yeah, it’s pretty serious.

Words can give life.

Words can give life.  Words can take life away.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about…

One day, I noticed that a girl in my class was upset about something.  It was noticeable because this particular student was usually upbeat about life in general.  When I asked her about it, she said that nothing was wrong.  A few days later, I brought it up again and this time she told me what was wrong.  She told me that she “had a falling out” with one of her best friends…because her best friend had changed recently—she said that her best friend was becoming increasingly mean towards her—telling her that she was worthless and stupid and dumb (words that hurt, words that sting–especially, if they’re coming from someone who is your friend and ally)…so, as you can imagine, it was bringing her down…and she looked like she had been sucker-punched, she looked like the wind had been knocked out her…

Words can take life away.

On the flip side…

I’ve seen kids say the best things that kids can say to one another.  Legitimately, support and encourage each other.  I’ve seen it happen in this very room–all year-long.    I’ve seen you do it for each other.   Whether a “thumbs up”, a “good job”, or “I’ve got your back”–I’ve seen you elevate someone’s spirit with a single kind word…I’ve seen your classmates shine…as a result of the good words you’ve shared…

Words can give life.

Doesn’t mean that you still don’t feel the sting of earlier slights and put downs…those kind of things stick with you…those kind of things are hard to shake…but, importantly, those words don’t define you, don’t encompass all that you are, don’t represent you fully—not even close–those words aren’t true, after all…nor do they (always) define the individuals who speak them …some things and some words are spoken when someone is having “a really bad moment”–we’ve all been there, too.

At the same time, for you all…in the world you live in, right now…it is a bit more intense…with technology and social media…words aren’t just spoken, they are texted and posted–and shared and shared and shared…they stay…they stick…they are always there, hovering in the background…it is impossible to get away from ‘em, or it feels that way at least…it’s hard to find some quiet, to find some safe space in that…

When it feels like the world is always coming at you.  When people won’t let you be.

Words can take life away.



So, for you…all of you…juniors and seniors…especially, you seniors…young men and young women…

Hear me now…hear my words of life…

Despite what people may say to you…know that you are:




















And much more…so much more…

That’s what I see, that’s what I know…

Hear me now…hear my words of life…


When people put you down, you will rise.

When people drive you down, you will rise.

When people knock the wind out of you, you will rise.

When people try to take a little bit of your life away,

You will rise

You will live

You will shine

Believe it

I do




I love you guys. Cheers!

2 responses

  1. Dear Dave.

    As you were posting these words, my colleagues daughter of almost 13 and Magnus’ new classmate took her own life, having been bullied for a long time by the girls at her old school. Word do take lives, it is all too apparent and unbelievable today.

    Keep up your faith in your students!


    Vennlig hilsen

    Kjersti Langekjend


    Postboks 613, N1411 Kolbotn

    Besøksadresse: Fløisbonnveien 4

    Mobil: +47 90 85 00 09

    Kontor: +47 46 40 70 00

    E-post: kl@centurie.no


    Fra: (it’s like) herding cats… [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com]
    Sendt: 24. mai 2015 05:18
    Til: Kjersti Langekjend
    Emne: [New post] i am who you say i am…

    dave posted: “[here is a copy of the speech i gave to all of my high school classes, on may 21st of this year (2015)–the last day for seniors…and they seemed to like it :)] I This is one of my favorite, all-time, movie clips…and I love the line… “


    • kjersti-

      i am so sorry to hear about the suicide…it seems like it’s even harder for kids today…with technology…there’s really no escape from what people say about you…it’s always there…it stays…it sticks…




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: