Chadwick High School 2019 valedictorian Brandyn Wiles took his graduation speech to a vulnerable and potentially scary place of introspection, and I thank him for it.
Wiles thanked his family for encouraging him, and for at times pushing him, to do his best with his school work. He cited three different verses from the Bible: John 14:16, Philippians 4:13 and Proverbs 14:23. He quoted the Bible so much he had to stop to joke about it.
“I know this sounds like a church sermon, but I’m just being honest and don’t want to take credit for something that I couldn’t have done alone,” Wiles said. “It’s all for the glory of God.”
Wiles’ quick self-deprecating quip quickly gave way to a much more serious message. While many valedictorians use their speeches to share funny memories or attempt to make profound statements about the future and the role education plays in it, Wiles steered everyone in the room toward taking a deep and uncomfortable look at themselves.
“Through my life I have been bullied and I’m sure it has happened at least once to everyone in this room. It hurts, but if it wasn’t for God leading me through it, I don’t think I would have been able to finish school. I tried to be the helper, the advice giver, the nice guy. I’m always here if anyone needs help,” Wiles said.
Sometimes the helper needs help, too. It is often those who appear outwardly among the strongest, fastest and smartest who carry the heaviest burdens. We don’t often see them struggle because their hurts and strifes are usually kept deeply private. Brandyn Wiles delivered that message to everyone in eastern Christian County, not just his nine classmates.
Wiles punctuated his message by picking up an acoustic guitar and singing a song recorded before he was born, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” written by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin and made famous by Mark Wills in 1998.
Shamblin reportedly wrote the lyrics after his daughter came home from school and told him that she was being teased.
While the song touches on schoolyard bullying, teen pregnancy, homelessness and mental illness, the refrain is simple and easily identifiable for anyone who has ever been made to feel lesser and didn’t quite have the right words to stick up for themselves.
“Don’t laugh at me / Don’t call me names / Don’t get your pleasure from my pain.”
You don’t have to be a bully to exhibit bullying behavior. If you’ve ever made a disparaging remark about someone else or acted in a way to intimidate or coerce someone else, you have engaged in bullying behavior. We’ve all done it, but we don’t have to keep doing it.
Wiles showed that he wasn’t scared to play guitar in a roomful of people and share something deeply personal and meaningful. He observed his designation as Chadwick’s 2019 valedictorian very humbly.
“Just because I’m valedictorian doesn’t mean I’m smarter than anyone else sitting in this room,” Wiles said.
Brandyn Wiles was open, honest and vulnerable in his address. I commend him for making the most of his time at the podium to share a message applicable to all who heard it, not just the kids graduating that night.
“Life is rough. Life is too short to be negative or fight with other people,” Wiles said. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
We will feature photos from Chadwick High School’s graduation, and graduation ceremonies from six other Christian County high schools, in an upcoming special edition of the Headliner News.