Lipham Imparts Wisdom to Class of 2019 at Baccalaureate

Lipham addresses class of 2019 in Baccalaureate speech and mentions fear of clowns.

Erik Lipham, Elected Baccalaureate Speaker and UD History teacher

Thanks for the ovation. I feel like there are really high expectations for this speech. Kind of reminds me of the high expectations for the final season of Game of Thrones. Unlike Game of Thrones, I hope I don’t disappoint, relative to the expectations. Speaking of Game of Thrones

In all seriousness, thank you to Mr. Jordan for that warm introduction. Thank you to the Trustees, Mr. Seivold and the Administration for allowing me to be a part of the Berkeley community. Thank you, Parents and Family Members for allowing me to be a part of your child’s life. And thank you to the class of 2019. Thank you for the memories! Speaking to you is truly a humbling and honoring experience

I hate clowns! And, no one knows this better than the class of 2019. This class, more than any other, has engaged in significant shenanigans and tomfoolery has exploited my coulrophobia. From hiding pictures throughout my classroom to changing your screens to the clown from IT every time I circulate the room, to purposefully writing a research paper to the very end, forcing me to turn the page to see if it continues and then… CLOWN! My favorite has been a persistent threat to send a clown to my classroom. First off, you know that can’t happen, because there is no way one of those things are getting past Mr. Caprara. Secondly, I have repeatedly told my classes that in a flight or fight scenario, I ain’t running. That clown is going down!   

Often I get asked, “Why do you have a fear of clowns?” I can’t stand that question! If you have to ask, then it’s obvious you don’t understand. I guess my irrational fear comes from the belief that they will take your soul. Or maybe I was traumatized as a child after watching the movie Poltergeist. Whatever it was, I buried it deep into my subconscious and I would rather not bring it up.

Now some of you are thinking, “Wow, Lipham you have a problem.” Parents are thinking, “This person teaches our children?” Administrators are asking each other, “We did a background check, right?” Well, look, it’s not that big of a deal. I’m just scared of clowns!  However, that is not the purpose of this intro. It’s that despite my fear, however irrational that it might be, it doesn’t own me. My fear doesn’t define me.

The fear is managed, it’s controlled. It’s understanding what’s in front of you, constantly looking behind you and then knowing that it must be confronted. Often the scariest thing in the world is the unknown. Think about it. The truly scary things in life are all because they are unknown to us.

We don’t know what’s going to happen. In the clown example, I don’t know what’s behind the sinister mask or face paint. We sometimes can’t control change. Seniors, adventure awaits soon. I know you feel excited and maybe a tad scared. Of course, because you are 18 and you know everything, you may not admit that you’re scared. But before you leave, please take the time to understand this: over these many years, your current world has mostly been myopic. It’s been the world of Berkeley. Well, shortly your world will get much larger. Berkeley does an amazing job of giving you a picture of the larger world. But there is a difference between knowing about the world and living in the world. High school graduation is important because that divide between the two begins to disappear.

THE COOL KID: Lipham’s senior year photo.

This young whippersnapper that you see up here was graduating from high school. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how many times you see this picture, it doesn’t get old. You can look at that picture and just tell, I must have been a popular kid. A real hit with the ladies. How about this picture?

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL: Lipham reminisces about his time in high school with Mr. Estes.

Look at those fine, acid washed jeans hiked up to my chest. Apparently, I was doing my Charlie’s Angel’s impression. FYI, the other star of that picture is in the audience tonight.  Mr. Estes, everyone, look he has hair!

By the way, how cool is this, that it has come full circle. Mr. Estes and I running cross country together in high school and here we are, years later, coaching together.  You never know, how the relationships that you build today, might come together in the future.

Anyway, my memories from high school graduation 28 years ago are limited. We graduated on our football field in early June. Yes, I’m from Florida so it was hot and it rained. I remember my favorite teachers and my friends. At the end of the ceremony, I remember the chaos that ensued as my parents and family tried to find me and drag me back to the house for a graduation party with relatives. I don’t remember what was said at graduation. What I wanted to do was go out with my friends, but my parents were insistent since we had relatives in town, we were going to go back home and have a get-together.  

Then, months later, I was about to depart my home and family and head across the state to the University of Central Florida (UCF), home to the 2017 National Football Champions. Go Knights! I was ready to leave. My father was the only one in my family that had graduated from college. I was hoping to be the second. I was excited, I was nervous, I was scared. What I knew was that I was ready to leave home. My parents, on the other hand, weren’t so sure. Nevertheless, I convinced my parents that I needed to check into the dorms at UCF on the first day they opened (more than a week before classes started). I told them I had cross country practice, which was true, but at the same time, I could use it as an excuse to finally be on my own.  

They bought it! My daddy and I loaded our 1975 Volkswagen Camper van down and headed across the state. My dad was a slow driver, but that day he drove a little slower. We stopped for lunch and actually took the time to eat at a restaurant. After unpacking, he wanted a tour of campus and to be honest, I had no idea where anything was at. We walked a lot in quiet. Finally, he was ready to leave. We are a hugging family but that day, the hug was a little different.  After the hug, he quickly got in the van and drove away. I went back to the dorms. I was free! I found out later that my dad cried all the way home.

Seniors, before you go off to college, spend some time with your family. Enjoy each other. The adventure will still be there waiting for you. See, this is not just a defining moment for you, but also for your parents, your family, those that raised you. You are standing on the shoulders of giants. Enjoy it, because when you look back you will wish that you had spent a little more time with your family. Remember, time is the one thing in life you can’t get more of, you can’t get it back!

In the immortal and life-changing words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. You might have an idea of what college life is like. That thought brings many of you happiness but for parents, it might bring terror and anxiety. Well, if parents were to be truthfully honest, it might mean a spare bedroom that can be turned into an exercise room, or more freedom, etc. If we ignore the social aspects of college, you are prepared for the academics. After countless tests, papers, anything related to AP Bio, APUSH, Honors English 11, musicals, concerts, language orals, honestly you people just do too much stuff!  Or, dealing with the dress code, the deans, sitting on stage as a Prefect, the dress code again, finally getting issued a warning for not shaving and thinking you’ve made it as a real man and then realizing that shaving stinks and on and on to the break of dawn.

But seniors, college is not just about learning knowledge and facts, but finding out who you are and what you want. Just as your academic knowledge will expand in college, so will your understanding of who you are.  But as you search for meaning, please remember the words of the great theologian and artist, Ariana Grande, “I feel like when I try to fit in, it comes across as not genuine and that is not good. I’d rather just do me and have people say, ‘Oh, That’s Interesting,’ than try to fit in.”  Wow, let that sink in… Okay, that’s long enough. Let’s try a different analogy.

One of my favorite movies is Invictus. It is based on a true story of the South African Rugby team in the aftermath of post-Apartheid. The movie’s title comes from a Victorian poem by William Ernest Henley. A part of this poem states, “I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.

Over the past 18 years, many have given you guidance and direction. They did so because they loved you and cared about you.  All of these efforts have prepared you for this moment, this time when you will embark on a new journey and forge a path of your own. So, here’s some simple advice from Lipham.

First, as another great theologian, Luke Bryan, states in one of his songs, “Days go slow, but years go fast”. I know you are only 18 and there’s a lot of life to live. But, there will be a point, where you suddenly look in the mirror and you see this,

The point is, enjoy the days because the years will pass before you know it. Stop looking toward the next big thing and look around and enjoy the fact that you are still breathing. Take joy out of the simple, daily things that you notice and be thankful. Be thankful for Thor Guard that keeps you safe, for Wikipedia (and the knowledge it can bring to a class discussion), the ducklings (and filming the cute ducklings), the Deans that remind you that “modest is hottest”, singing the Alma Mater on Fridays and laughter shared with friends.

Do something you love! Jon Stewart, fabled host of the “Daily Show”, once said in a commencement speech at his Alma Mater, “Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.” Seniors, take the risks. Don’t be scared!  If the risks are out of love and passion, you cannot lose.

Speaking of risks, please let yourself fail! Some of my biggest regrets are when I cower in my comfort zone.  Try something new. Take a class, simply because you find it interesting. Try a new club, go on a new adventure. Once you graduate from college, it becomes harder to do something new. During your college years, your 20s, go enjoy life!  But, you can’t enjoy life, if you are too scared to live it. The late, great, Robin Williams, Rest in Peace, playing Jon Keating from Dead Poets Society, “You must strive to find your own voice.  Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all”.

Listen. Really listen. Listen to friends or family when they need someone. Don’t give advice, just listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t look at your I-Telephone, doing the “Tweeting” or “Instagramming” or having those ridiculous things in your ear (air buds or whatever they’re called) instead just be there, listening. Stop and listen to the wind as it blows through the trees. Listen to the rain as it pitter patters on the roof.  Listen to nothing. Sit and be still. It’s not a frightening place, instead, you will find happiness and a connection to yourself.

Build relationships, real ones. Connect to others. I don’t mean relationships built through technology, like Facebook.  Of course, I know your generation doesn’t use Facebook, until now. Most of you here had to create an account for your college. What a defining moment! This now means you are old!  In building relationships, look people in the eye, talk to them, get to know them. People are interesting, they’ve got great stories and everyone wants to be heard. These stories can reaffirm your faith in humanity. A simple hello to a stranger, or asking the cashier in the check-out line about their day. These small simple acts, help to connect you with your community. Over the years, in my classroom, I have tried to teach you that differences of opinion are good. They allow you to be more thoughtful.  Whether it’s an agree-disagree activity or engaging in an X-Fire Debate, you had to calmly, rationally and thoughtfully defend your point of view. Regardless of the outcomes of these activities, the connections, the relationships, with your classmates, still remained strong and intact. Carry this idea with you as you enter your new community.

Be kind and grateful. It’s easy to become too discouraged because it appears the world is simply full of hate.  No, it’s not. But, if you see something that is wrong, don’t walk by it, don’t ignore it, don’t be a bystander. You see it, because whatever that “it” is, it has been expecting you.  While we have the urge to try to solve the really big problems, you tend to make a bigger difference in solving the small issues one at a time. If you don’t do something, no one will. Don’t let the metaphorical clown stand in your way!  Push the clown down and walk over it. Remember, this is a metaphor, do not actually seek clowns out and then purposefully push them down.

There’s a song performed by one of my favorite groups called the David Crowder Band and in it, he sings the following, “All the love in the world is right here amongst us and hatred to, we must choose what our hands will do”. And then the song offers a prayer,


Where there is pain, let there be grace.

Where there is suffering, bring serenity.

For those afraid, help them be brave.

Where there is misery, bring expectancy.


As President Obama once stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.

Finally, the class of 2019, what a journey! I have known many of you personally for years. I have been able to watch you grow, watch you mature, not just individually, but as a group, as a class. About a month ago, I had the privilege of speaking before the Senior Mother’s Luncheon. In prep for that speech, I was asked what makes this class so special. Without hesitation, my first words were how close this group is to one another. The way they incorporated new students and looked out for each other. Years from now, you will look back on your high school career, as the memories begin to fade and you will be reminded of a few things. First, you certainly won’t remember those tests that you stressed over. You won’t remember your day to day activities. You probably won’t remember every rehearsal, every art project, every game, match, meet, the number of detentions you had, every homework assignment or perhaps this speech. Ask your parents. They don’t remember the mundane. They remember the journey. Think of your journey, from the freshman area. Did you have a freshman plant that you fed with gum? Moving to the sophomore area and finally getting some space at the kiosk, only to watch that space shrink when you moved to the junior… area. Then the journey to the mall and on Monday, the celebration of the clap-out and Senior Day. The memories you take away from Berkeley, always Berkeley will be different for each of you. A memory may stand alone as some moment in time. A friendship, an event, a trip, a big game, your favorite play. Maybe the event stands out because a goal was achieved, perhaps it was because of friendships involved, maybe it stands out because it was embarrassing or hurtful. Whatever those individual moments are, they will form your perspective of the past and shape your worldview. Together, this Mosaic will form a picture of a journey, your journey. One that is etched in your heart and soul. This journey, the Berkeley Journey, will be what binds the class of 2019 together. In another quote from Ferris Bueller, “The question isn’t what are we going to do, it’s what aren’t we going to do.” Class of 2019,  I am especially proud of you and I am glad I could be a small part of your journey. I love you guys! I wish you the best of luck! Congratulations!