Harout Dimijian ’96 considers the valedictory speech he gave 20 years ago—and what he’d change now based on life experiences.
My 1996 Santa Clara University valedictory address revolved around a story my father had often told me—a story handed down to him from his barber in Lebanon when my father was a young man in the 1950s. The story centered on a downtrodden king in search of a magic ring that had the power to make a depressed person happy and a happy person depressed. After a lengthy and fruitless search that unearthed many rings without this power, a servant brought the king the last ring he could find. Upon looking at the ring, the desperate king’s mood instantly became jovial. At a party later that evening, while the king was happier than he had been in years, he glanced at the ring and suddenly was saddened again. When asked why that particular ring had this magical power, the king revealed an inscription on the ring that read: “This Too Shall Pass.”
The moral of that story formed the theme of my address: all things in life shall pass. The bad times pass; the good times pass. My father was a serial storyteller, but this particular story always stood out. Even in my youth, I knew this tale would resonate throughout my life.
Re-reading my address twenty years later, I am struck by how much I focused then on the first half of the moral—that the bad times pass. I spoke of a trip in which I participated as a cast member of SCU’s production of The Grapes of Wrath. On that trip, our cast met and spent a weekend with members of the United Farm Workers in the California Central Valley as part of our research for the production. I noted the difficult circumstances in which they lived and marveled at their hopefulness. I also spoke about the uncertainty some of my fellow graduates and I faced as we left the comforts of academia for the unknowns of the “real” world. Then, the unknown and the difficult were foremost on my mind.
Twenty years later, I see that my focus has shifted to the second half of the moral—the good times pass as well. When I gave that speech in 1996, with my father proudly looking on, little did I know that he would unexpectedly pass away seven years later at age 66. That was the ultimate unknown and few things since have proved as difficult. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, losing my father made me more keenly aware and appreciative of the good times—those that I had shared with him as well as those that had nothing to do with him. As but one example, I became so much more grateful for our trips to the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles, where my father and I would see old Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movies together. Until his passing, I’m not sure I had realized that my father’s story was as much about savoring those happy moments as it was about not dwelling too much on the darker times.
In the years since, my friends, family, and I have experienced loss, challenges, and disappointment. However, I find that I focus more on how quickly the good times pass. In my own experience, the last twenty years have brought love, marriage, career highs, deepening friendships, and so much more. But with each passing year, I wish these good experiences would linger a little longer.
If I knew in 1996 what I know now, I would have talked much more about relishing the happy moments in life because they seem to pass much more quickly (in the mind, at least) than the bad times. I think this is likely true no matter one’s age, but the realization of this reality only comes with more life experience. It can only come with facing and understanding loss, hardship, and hurt. Upon reflection, I am happy to discover that the 1996 version of myself had not yet had these experiences and could speak from a certain amount of naiveté. Perhaps that is as it should be when one is 21 years old.
At 41 years old, my perspective has shifted to thinking about how quickly my nieces, nephews, and godson are growing up, how swiftly the years marking my wedding anniversary are increasing, and how many college reunions I have now attended. We cannot control how quickly we perceive the good times passing, but in knowing that all moments in life pass, we can choose to focus on and relish the good ones. Twenty years ago I could not have imagined focusing on that, and twenty years from now my present interpretation of my father’s story may seem just as naïve. However, I will never be 41 again, so instead of lamenting that I am no longer 21 or wondering whether I will be able to do everything I want before I am 61, the lesson I have gleaned as I reflect on my valedictory speech is to enjoy this moment while I am in it because it will pass faster than I can imagine. Perhaps I have stumbled into the deeper point of my father’s story—every stage in life has its own lessons, nuances and perspective, and in time each stage will pass—relish each one for what it has to offer before it is behind you.
Harout Dimijian, Santa Clara University's 1996 valedictorian, lives in Los Angeles where he is an attorney at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and an adjunct faculty member at Southwestern Law School.