I have attended my three sons’ high school graduations plus 17 years of graduations from Presentation High School where I work as Academic Dean. Consequently, I’ve heard more than my share of Valedictorian Addresses. Most of them rife with funny stories about students throughout their four year stint of high school and/or rosters of accumulated honors and awards of the Class of Fill In The Blank.
However, the most profound Valedictorian speech that I have every heard is the one my brother Ron Shaheen gave in 1970 when he graduated from Pius X High School at the tender age of 17.
My brother is an old soul. A man of integrity and grace and intelligence. He is also one of the most unpretentious people I know. I found the transcript of his speech on yellowed parchment in our old family trunk. The words are as profound today as they were on May 31, 1970.
Perhaps we could talk him into running for President of the United States!
Commencement Exercises- Pius X High School
May 31, 1970
I am speaking in praise of Virtue.
In these times of “hardcore realities”, Virtue seems like an illusion, a simple fairy tale, a cute habit. Virtue is probably the most diluted idea of the modern age; it has been watered down to a sticky, sweet paste to be swallowed whole by innocent little girls, or it is the liquid poison of impracticality intended for foolish dreamers.
Virtue is degraded in our society. Instead of Knowledge, brute force is glorified. Instead of Wisdom, blind conformity is the solution to all problems. Instead of Love, what is sought in personal relationships is a good bargain.
The power of Virtue has never been fully realized by many people. Few recognize it as the most potent force of the human spirit. Men with Virtue have always greatly improved and changed the world. Virtue transforms men from thinking animals into creators of Beauty and advocates of Good- because to possess Virtue is to possess the foundations of Truth. And it is exactly Beauty and Goodness and Truth that give men that strength necessary to change the world.
I am speaking in praise of all Virtues: Knowledge, as that virtue with which man seeks to find himself in the mirror of humanity and to find humanity in himself. Wisdom, that virtue which enables man to build on his failures, to plan his successes and to share the experience of both with his fellow men. And lastly Love, that virtue from which all other virtues spark, for inherent in the act of Love burns the desire to be generous, to be sincere and honest, to be compassionate, to be patient, understanding and kind, to be forgiving and to accept others as they are, without question or ridicule, and in turn to respond to their love.
These virtues are the essence of living, but man can only find this essence if he is sensitive to his own encounters with others. Each man must remember that Knowledge is the search for human experience, that the application of this human experience is Wisdom, and that the substance of human experience is Love.
Now it is time for men to take action. It is time, for the sake of every man’s future, to dissolve the misconceptions and falsehoods enshrouding Virtue. All men must know that Virtue is not a weakness, but that it gives them strength; is not a disgrace, but that it brings them honor; and that only man’s good dreams and beautiful aspirations and truthful intentions will be the wings that fly mankind away from the depths of prejudice, hate, war, and human misery. Every man must adopt Virtue as his way of life, and in doing so, save Truth, the world, and mankind.
It is to this purpose that we should leave today, and for this purpose that we should live tomorrow.
Ronald T. Shaheen, Ph.D.
Ronald Shaheen is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music at the University of San Diego. He has also taught for UCSD Extension and for the San Diego Community College District’s College of the Emeriti. Dr. Shaheen has lectured and read scholarly papers in Italy, Germany, New York City, and Los Angeles. He has lectured for San Diego Opera, the La Jolla Music Society, the San Diego Symphony, Opera Pacific, and other cultural institutions. He is also a frequent guest on UCSD-TV’s very popular program “Opera Talk.”
He received his doctorate in historical musicology from the University of California, Los Angeles. The subject of his dissertation centered on Italian opera of the early 19th century. As a Fulbright Scholar, he pursued his doctoral research in the musical archives of Northern Italy. Dr. Shaheen is a member of the American Musicological Society and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS). As a practicing musician, he continues to serve the community as singer and voice teacher.