A message for the youth, from the youth
By Briellen Clapp & Willa Kramer
A few weeks ago, reality started setting in that we would be speaking to everyone attending the Frankfort High School graduation. And it was daunting. Because there is so much going on in the world, and there is so much to think about. So much to say.
The first was, obviously, to thank the staff, family, and friends who taught us lessons and maybe never even realized it; who contributed significantly to creating a safe space; who showed up, extending their kindness to people of all sorts; and to those who encouraged us to speak, even when not everybody wanted to listen.
And beyond that, a very special “thank you” to everyone who got up out of bed yesterday, and a preemptive “thank you” for when you get up again tomorrow. It is incredibly important.
As we linger at this precipice, we are confronted with all the visions of who we are, who we have been, and who we might be—and this is, of course, overwhelming. It feels all too easy, in this cataclysmic moment, to allow ourselves to be consumed by what-ifs and maybes; to lose ourselves to dreams of forever unrealized potential; to live not in the moment but in our minds.
In the face of all this, it is far easier to resign ourselves to inconsequential existences—lives governed by the perspective that we are but specks on a floating rock in an incomprehensibly vast expanse of universe. This, however, neglects the fact that we are not only individuals but also members of communities. Whole masses of people, collectives made diverse and invaluable specifically because their composition is one of wildly disparate perspectives and experiences.
We are all those people who have come before us; all those people who will come after us; all those people who exist alongside us now. Our stories are inherited, are retold, are reshaped in light of the revolutionary changes which occur throughout our world.
We are, paradoxically, both beginnings and endings; experiencing both beginnings and endings; dreaming of both beginnings and endings.
This duality is not impossibly inconceivable, but inherently necessary—we must reckon with the brilliance of the unknown and the unknowable; we must seek out coherence in the face of a universe of unfathomably diverse possibilities; we must understand that questions are far more valuable than answers.
For to provoke change and exploration is undeniably more compelling than the destructive finality of uncompromising “rightness.”
There is far too much nuance woven throughout this world for us to deny the impossibility of absolution; to refuse to change our minds, even as the world allows us the space in which to do so; to fear being wrong, when our missteps are often the catalysts which ignite the most radical transformations.
To that end, we have been reflecting most on—and feel the greatest need to speak about—our experiences living in this town.
Frankfort, Michigan, is beautiful. We cannot deny our privileges in growing up here. What is also undeniable are the harmful things going on around the world, in which we all play a role. So as our high school experience comes to an end, we have this message for the Class of 2022, but it also rings true for everyone reading this:
Whatever part you played yesterday, whoever you are today, there is always something you can do by tomorrow. Ways you can be better and things you can contribute towards the fight for equality.
Because the world will not wait for you, as you sit idly on the sidelines, ignoring issues because they do not affect you or if you refuse to acknowledge your role in dismantling racist, misogynistic, and anti-LGBTQIA+ systems.
The world will not wait if you continue to refuse validation and acknowledgement for those in the LGBTGIA+ community and will not wait as you make a joke of the struggles of marginalized groups.
The world will not wait for the next generation to address the climate crisis nor will it wait as you promote a war on the bodies of those who are able to have children.
The world will not wait for you if you still cannot respect people when they tell you “no.” And the world will not wait for Frankfort.
And it’s not just that the world won’t wait. It can’t wait. We have to do something.
Nearly the entirety of what we have done, what we have accomplished up to this point, what we have experienced during this last year has been predicated on the notion that we will never know what could happen unless we try. Unless we do it. Unless we reach out toward the horizon and demand that the world open up to our grasp.
We gave the world every opportunity to slam itself shut at the brush of our fingertips—too many opportunities, perhaps, in all the years we spent doubting ourselves and the world as a whole—but it didn’t.
And that, in itself, is so significant. In every moment, every detail, every infinitesimal minutiae of human existence, there is something so incredibly remarkable.
For the honest truth is that we are doomed to a future of bleak destruction only if the assumption of such is the framework through which we face our collective challenges—and, therefore, with which we manifest our own consequences. What we face now is a fight: for the future and for the future of generations yet to come. A fight to accept the foundational elements of human nature, which provide us with the capability of bringing about revolutionary and radical change.
And then to act, powerfully, through that perspective—a synthesis of all the people in our lives, all the books we have ever read, all the classes that got us up early and kept us up late, and all the incredible potential which exists throughout our world.
Because there are always opportunities to change your mind. Mistakes will be made; you surely have had your share of mistakes, and we both have already made plenty. But of much greater importance than the fear of making mistakes are the ways in which we take accountability and change after we make them. Of even greater importance is the work we do to address inequalities—the ones we see easily and the ones we may struggle at first to see.
Rather than succumb to silence and passivity, we must choose instead to learn, to explore, to face down what would be a world of black-and-white and paint it instead in the hues of abstraction and ambiguity, of answering one question with another, of challenging narratives and rewriting the story. We must choose to exist beyond the harshly drawn lines set by generations past and in a space where knowledge is pursued honestly, intently, fully. For being wrong only means that you have more to learn.
We would all do well to remember that.
So, to the Class of 2022, whether you are going right into the workforce or becoming a teacher, a mechanic, or an architect, there are always ways in which you can weave inclusive work into any career you choose. Even small ways. Things as small as listening to marginalized groups and what they need; learning to respect identities other than your own; understanding the importance of issues, even when you are not affected by them. Just know that there is always something to do.
And there is nothing more important than love.
So show up. Listen. Represent.
And hold yourself—and those around you—accountable.
Briellen Clapp and Willa Kramer are recent graduates of Frankfort High School who both participated in “mock interviews” with The Betsie Current earlier this spring. This piece was adapted from both of their speeches as two of three co-valedictorians of the Class of 2022. This fall, Clapp is headed to Ursuline College in Ohio to study pre-law, and then she hopes to go to law school to pursue international human rights or environmental justice; Kramer is headed to Harvard University to study government, philosophy, and journalism.
Featured Photo Caption: The Class of 2022 at Frankfort High School graduation. Briellen Clapp (brunette) pictured far right, second to last row; Willa Kramer (blonde) pictured far left, second row. Photo courtesy of Frankfort Elberta Area Schools.