This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 Harker Quarterly.
Good morning. I would like to welcome members of the board of trustees, administration, faculty, staff, parents, friends and family, alumni, and the true guests of honor, the graduating Class of 2014. I have the privilege of saying a few words of farewell to our graduates each year. Like most graduation speeches, my talk takes the form of advice, like “Dare to Singletask” or “Love Like a Labrador.” Since my talk is the only remaining formality standing between you and your diplomas, I will continue the tradition of confining my remarks to one page of single-space, size twelve font. I am so confident that I can achieve this goal that I have even spelled out the number twelve. But I will make no promises about the size of my margins.
Today I turn for inspiration to the award-winning song “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen.” I know, I know, by now we all are tired of the song. My boys howl from the back seat when I play the song in the car, let down my hair, and belt out its chorus. I can do it here if you would like. But Rolling Stone Magazine calls “Let It Go” a “bona fide anthem that’s Disney’s single-biggest and best song in a generation.” Also, this year’s Oscar win for best song brings one of the writers of “Let it Go,” Robert Lopez, what the magazine calls “a rare EGOT (wins for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony).” (By the way, EGOT is an unfortunate acronym; why not the more stylish TOGE or pithy GOET?)
The song is sung powerfully by Idina Menzel, or, as John Travolta mispronounced her name at the 2014 Oscars, “Adele Dazeem.” In case you didn’t know, there is now a widget that will “Travoltify” your name for free. For instance, my name Travoltified is Catherine Nicheems. “Travoltify,” unlike “selfie” and “derp,” hasn’t made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. If it does, however, it will have the unique classification of being a proper name that is also a transitive verb with only one possible direct object: another proper name. Spooky. Nonetheless, Menzel’s glorious voice makes the song so meaningful and memorable that even 2-year-olds know the words. I know you do, too.
The song and the movie have had their share of controversies. The biggest controversy is the transformation of Elsa into a slender, elegantly gowned ice diva at the moment of her liberation during this song. I will not address these controversies, but I will add one of my own: why is the male hero, an ice harvester named Kristoff, so good looking and oafishly charming? Why aren’t there any movies with stuffy administrators, like, say, heads of schools, as the heroes? Instead of Kristoff the hero could be named, well, Chris Nikoloff. I could swoop into a life or death situation, devise some policy, form a committee and save the day.
In any case, the song’s message is to, well, “let it go.” What exactly are you letting go? On one level, the song can be taken to suggest letting go of inhibitions, the past, caring what others think, or even fears. This is not unlike Buddha’s third noble truth. Buddha’s second noble truth is that we suffer because we desire, or “cling” to be exact. His third truth recommends letting go of desire, or clinging, a process called nirvana, which literally means to blow out, or “whew” as translated by Alan Watts. Buddha’s students would point out that this puts them into the paradoxical bind of desiring not to desire. Luckily there is a way out of that trap, but that is for another graduation. In any case, some of these interpretations have gotten the song into trouble, but I think there is a more precise message anyway.
For those of you who have taken psychology, you may be familiar with Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow, the unconscious part of yourself that you dare not recognize but that you eventually must integrate to become whole. Elsa’s secret power that turns everything into ice is her shadow, the part of herself that she hides to conform to society’s expectations. She sings “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” Your 2014 baccalaureate student speaker, Efrey Noten, captured this sentiment with a quote from David Wallace: “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.” It is Elsa’s shadow that she accepts, after years of concealing, and lets go. When she lets her shadow go, she builds a marvelous ice castle in the mountains; her shadow is finally liberated, as is her hair when she lets it down.
Acceptance and liberation aren’t enough, however; Elsa still has to integrate her shadow. Not until she allows herself to love her sister, and her complete self, does she fully integrate her shadow and use her powers for good, like creating ice skating rinks for her adoring subjects. Also, because shadow material contains all of your so-called imperfections, integrating your shadow means dropping perfectionism, too. Elsa sings, “That perfect girl is gone.” I know that good is the enemy of great, but perfect can be the enemy of good enough, and believe me, there will be plenty of times in your life when good enough will have to be, well, good enough.
In closing, all of the weaker, less desirable parts of yourself, those parts that you hide to conform, can be sources of power, of your unique expression in the world. They are the metaphorical frogs that transform into princes, or the dragons that fight for you instead of breathing fire at you. In the movie “Shrek,” remember how helpful Dragon becomes once she discovers love with Donkey? So my advice to you today is to let it go, with the “it” being that part of yourself that no one, not even you, acknowledges. Lao Tzu, the great author of the Tao Te Ching, said the following: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” You have spent 18 years becoming what you are and if you dare to let it go, you will discover just how wonderful who you are really is. Thank you.