Gary J. Murakami


Downers Grove Community High School South, Class of 1976
Valedictorians: Emil Martinec, Gary Murakami

Valedictory Speech

By Gary J. Murakami, Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 1976

It is a great honor to be here today on this memorable occasion to speak on behalf of the graduating class of '76.  Since this is the bicentenial year, it is appropriate to think and dwell on the values and ideals upon which our country was founded - our American Heritage.

This year, a freshly kindled flame of patriotism has swept across the nation, however, there are many men without countries today - men who are discontented with their nation and rebellious against their government.  Many of us grumble and complain about taxes and inflation.  Perhaps some of us are even malcontents.  Edward Everett Hale writes about a malcontent, Philip Nolan, in the story, "The Man Without A Country."

Lieutenant Nolan takes part in a rebellious plot to create a separate state -- a plot that is exposed and suppressed.  At his court-martial, he has a chance to vindicate himself with an oath of loyalty, but he condemns the United States and cries in a fit of frenzy, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!"  The court sentences Nolan and decides that he should never hear the name of the United States again.

Nolan serves his sentence for fifty-five years on board a ship isolated from any mention of his country.  There he repents.  Danforth, the person in charge of Nolan, relates the story of Nolan's last day.

... The Stars and Stripes were displayed up and above and around a picture of Washington, and he had painted a majestic eagle, with lightning blazing from his beak, and his foot just clasping the whole globe, which his wings overshadowed.  The dear old boy saw my glance, and said with a sad smile, "Here, you see, I have a country!"  And then he pointed to the foot of his bead, where I had not seen before a great map of the United States, as he had drawn it from memory, and which he had there to look upon as he lay...

"Oh, Danforth," he said, "I know I am dying.  I cannot get home.  Surely you will tell me something now?   Stop!  Stop!  Do not speak till I say what I am sure you know, that there is not in this ship, that there is not in America - God bless her! - a more loyal man than I.  There cannot be a man who loves the old flag as I do, or prays for it as I do, or hopes for it as I do.

Nolan has come to appreciate America and listens happily as Danforth tells him the news of the past fifty-five years.  Nolan says to Danforth, "Look into my Bible when I am gone."  An hour later, Mr. Danforth and the doctor find that Nolan has passed away.
We looked into his Bible, and there was a slip of paper at the place where he had marked the text, 'They desire a country, even a heavenly: therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.'  On this slip of paper he had written, "Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it.  But will not some one set up a stone for my memory at Fort Adams or at Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear?  Say on it,


Lieutenant in the Army of the United States

He loved his country as no other man has loved her;
but no man deserved less at her hands.
As Philip Nolan, the man without a country, learned to love America, so every citizen should also learn to love his country and the ideals it is based upon.  The American ideals of equality, individuality, and excellence should be honored and cherished by every American.

Equality is one of the ideals and the first "self-evident truth" on which the founders of this nation built America.  Two hundred years ago, men that loved their country set equality as one of the standards for Democracy.  "We hold these truths to be self evident ; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  People cherished these ideals; they gave their lives to that today there would be liberty and justice for all.  They are the Pilgrims, the Patriots, the Minutemen, the Pioneers, the Forty-niners, the Yankees, the Confederates, the Abolitionists, the Immigrants, the Doughboys, the G.I.'s, and you.  Because of these people, our American Heritage, and the self-evident truth of equality, we are here today on common ground; all of us citizens of the Unites States of America.

Individuality is the next American ideal.  It is based on the point that people are not equal in all aspects; they are not identical.  Every man is unique.  People are individuals with different physical characteristics, mental capabilities, physical abilities, gifts, and talents.  There are people of different occupations: Athletes, Scientists, Businessmen, Artists, Engineers, Farmers, Politicians, Laborers, Tradesmen, Secretaries, and of course, Teachers.  Mother Goose says,

Tinker, tailor,
Soldier, sailor.
Gentleman, Apothecary,
Plough-boy, Thief.

Soldier brave,
Sailor true,
Skilled physician,
Oxford blue.

Learned lawyer,
Squire so hale,
Dashing airman,
Curate pale.

Army, Navy,
Medicine, Law,
Church, Nobility,
Nothing at all
" The true greatness of a nation is in those qualities which constitute the individual."  Though it conflicts with the idea of total equality, the sanctity of the individual is an important American ideal.

So the principle of equality does not mean equality of talent, wealth, and condition, but equality of opportunity - opportunity to develop their talent, their ability, and their motivation to make something of themselves.  " The real democratic American ideal is, not that every man shall be on a level with every other, but that every one shall have liberty without hindrance, to be what God made him."  " False democracy shouts - Every man down to the level of the average.  True Democracy cries - All men up to the height of their fullest capacity for service and achievement."  America gives its citizens an equal opportunity to succeed, to excel, and to fulfill their God-given potential.

Excellence is the next American cornerstone upon which the quality of the individual is founded.  " Democracy is based on the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people."  Excellence is related to potential, character, and success.  But - "Success is not measured by what we are.  It is measured by what we are compared to what we could be.  Success is not measured by what we do.  It is measured by what we do compared to what we could be doing."  " The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do without a though of fame."  Success is measured by the amount in which we have fulfilled our potential.  Booker T. Washington said, "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."  Booker T. Washington rose "Up from Slavery" to found Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and to be elected to the National Hall of Fame.  George Washington Carver also rose up from slavery to become a leading scientist and to speak before Congress.  This was possible because of another great man who also rose up from poverty.  " With malice toward none , with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in."  Abraham Lincoln was reared on a farm in this state, but he rose to become one of the most honored presidents in the history of the nation.

The decision to be successful and to excel in character is up to every individual himself.  " A man's character is the reality of himself."  " Grandeur of character lies wholly in force of soul, in the force of thought, moral principles, and love, and this may be found in the humblest conditions of life."  Each person must decide for himself what he will do with his life - and with his opportunities and education.  Mark Twain said, "Training is everything.  The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is but cabbage with a college education."  Mark Twain was the typical hookey-playing, Tom-Sawyer-type student like many of us individuals in the class of seventy-six.  Yet he later became the most cherished American author.  Ideally, American Heritage gives every individual an equal opportunity for excellence.  But we must choose for ourselves what we will do with our lives, with our American Heritage, and with God and Jesus Christ.  Patriots died so that we might have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Christ died so that we might have an abundant life - liberty from the bondage of sin, and true happiness.  "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name."  It is our decision and our choice.
You are the handicap you must face ,
You are the one who must choose your place.
You must say where you want to go,
How much you will study the truth to know;
God hath equipped you for life, but He
Lets you decide what you want to be.

You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if you only will.
You're well-equipped for what place you choose;
You have arms and legs and a brain to use.
And the man who has risen great deeds to go
Began his life with no more than you.

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