The Healing Horse, Ch. 41, Scene 2: The Speech

Painting of the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in 1886

For Karen, graduating high school meant not only leaving her childhood behind, but beginning her career as a teacher and therapist. In dance and fitness, she would eventually revolutionize services to people with disabilities and inspire a new generation of disability activists. 

Next week, you will read her reflections on this step.

[Painting of the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty by Edward Moran, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Scene 2: The Speech

Karen stood tall and walked from her line of classmates to the podium. She took a deep breath and looked out over the audience, the parents of her friends, and her own mother, staring up at her, mouth open, tears streaming down her face. Karen winked and spoke.

“Dear Mr. Sanchez, family, friends, and graduating class of 1968, it is with great honor that I stand here before you today. First, I want to thank all of you, but especially my mother, my dance mentor Gilberto, my teachers, and my friends. Without you, I would not be here. I would not be graduating at all. As your valedictorian, I hope your future will be bright. I hope it will light up your way, and I hope you will be self-directed in everything you wish to achieve. Like Emma Lazarus, the Jewish-American poet who saw the statue of Liberty as a beacon to the world, I hand you the torch of freedom.”

Karen looked into her heart and knew her memory would not fail her as she recited the one poem that meant the most to her.

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Karen took another deep breath. She had remembered it all. She exhaled. The auditorium was completely silent. All eyes were on her. Tammy and her friends were in tears.

She leaned toward the microphone and spoke in a quiet, intimate voice. “Let us go out from here to light each golden door. Let us light up the world and show others that we, too, can conquer.”

The auditorium exploded with applause as she bowed and returned to her place in line.

Original text ©2023 by Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.

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