Ithaca, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick spoke at the Ithaca High School’s class of 2014 graduation Thursday night about the importance of not letting social media dictate one’s life.

A little more than 300 graduating students listened to Myrick’s speech along with family, friends, teachers and other IHS school staff.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of that speech. (Thanks to Ithaca HS TV for posting a video of the event.)

“I want to thank you for accepting my one condition for speaking with you today: And that’s 300 flowers; I need 300 flowers on stage before I can talk — you know this. I’m glad we could come to some sort of arrangement….”

“It’s such a thrill for me to be here. I don’t know how many of you know this, but I grew up in a village called Earlville, NY. Earlville, NY. The village had 800 people in it; the day I graduated from high school, I came here to Ithaca … I graduated at noon I was in Ithaca by 3 p.m., where I started summer college at Cornell, and that day was 9 years ago yesterday. So I’m in sort of a wistful mood… You caught me at a good time.”

“I remember, too, when I called my brother, my older brother — now, I know all of you look up to me … Ah, nod, yes, nod. I will tow all of your cars. Nod when I say nod. Okay, thank you.”

“I know all of you look up to me but believe it or not I was not always this cool. I was not. I had two older brothers — one was 6’4” one was 6’5.

“I tell people I’m 6 foot — I’m only 5′ 11″, let’s not go there — but my junior year in high school I was only 5’4″. I wore glasses, I had asthma — I still have asthma but I use the past tense, makes me seem cooler — I used an inhaler. My brothers still hold between the two of them every meaningful athletic record in my school — football, basketball, track, you name it…”

“And I hold the record for most books read while pretending to read your brothers’ basketball achievement. That was my record.”

“But we’re all the same family — so when I got into Cornell I was extremely excited, this was the school of my dreams; it was beautiful; it was big. I couldn’t wait to come here, so I called my older brother, and because it’s my older brother, and because he loves me, he was not impressed.

“He said, ‘Okay, pointdexter good job, Cornell, but don’t think I’m impressed … until you’re standing in an athletic center with 1000 people cheering just for you … you haven’t done anything.’”

“So I brought my camera. And if you could do me a favor … and if we could all wave to my brother here for a second (Takes photo) Eat that, tough guy.

“In all seriousness, I had a heck of a time in high school but when you give a high school graduation speech the word of the day is advice; I’m supposed to give you advice. So I thought to myself, they’re coming from high school they’re going to college maybe I could give some advice about college.

“Folks, we’re in trouble: I was not a good student, I’m not going to bull you. I learned some things in school, I did, I learned some things they may not be somethings. I learned from my high school teacher Mr. Linebeck … this was my calculus teacher, old school — he taught my mother calculus, seriously, he would say, “She was much faster at this.”

“And I learned it, eventually. I’m hear to tell you it’s 9 years and 1 day since I graduated high school it’s also 9 years and 1 day since I’ve used calculus …
But he taught me something even more important. Mr. Linebeck was so old school you had to do all your work in pencil. And if he could tell that you had erased anything at all on the paper, even if you had got the answer correct, and even if your work was correct, he would take points off. Right, do you know how infuriating that is? … Because he said you could learn things from your mistakes. And lord knows that’s the truth.

“Every day I’ve been blessed to be in public office 6 and a half years now … And every day, I’ve made at least 1 mistake, some humdingers, but every day I’ve tried to learn, I’ve tried to get better … as a result I think I’ve improved, not only as your mayor but as a person…

“I was in band. Where’s the band at … Oh, I’m sorry, ‘Orchestra,’ — this is the snooty version of band … I was a drummer … I’ll never forget Mr. Manwarren. …
He was my first instructor, when I became a drummer I had a lot of energy, I had a lot of ambition, so on the very first song I came in and I played as hard as I could as loud as I could and as soon as the song was over I said Mr. Manwarren, ‘How’d I play?’ He said, ‘well um you played loud.’ I said, ‘Loud is good,’ He said, ‘Sometimes. Sometimes, loud is good.’

“And sometimes you want to stand out. But he said do this for me play as half as loud as you did and sure enough we played it through and it all sounded better and that was the first time that I realized that by blending into a team, by playing down your own talents you could make even more beautiful music. …

“I learned from Coach Rodriguez … my soccer coach and my civics teacher; he would make us run wind sprints in the dead of heat — back and forth, back and forth — he’d be out there leading us, beating us back and forth …

“Mr. Rodriguez taught me that I do not like soccer, and I’m not going to play it anymore. That’s what I learned from him. A valuable lesson in itself: The ability to recognize what you do well and what you don’t, how you want to spend your time, and how you don’t. And that’s actually the point I’d like to linger on here, if I could.

“Something I learned not in school but in the moments to come after … Dr. Brown took a photo … and I want you to tag yourselves … I’ve noticed a strange thing happening lately, have you noticed some of your parents, your caregivers the media, talking about your generation. have you heard anybody call it the selfie generation? They’re concerned that we’re too self absorbed, self-obsessed; concerned that you think only of yourself.

Well, I’m going to tell you that I know you better than that; I know that’s not the case and I know that that’s not what those selfies are all about, but they’re about something equally troubling: I know that so often those pictures those selfies … How many of you have ever done something for the picture? How many of you have gone to a party, jumped into a pool maybe — done something for the picture so you could show your friends so you could post it online. How many of you have ever done something for the status update? Not even on social media, how many of you have done something not because you wanted to do it but because you wanted to brag about it? … Thank you for your honesty, sir.

“I tell you that I’ve watched my peers succumb to this pressure, this desire to live not just for yourself but to live for the impression that you leave on other people but I’ll tell you that way leads to nothing but disappointment, and in a lot of cases heartbreak …

“We’d mentioned earlier that I’d gone to the White House. The first time I went to the White House I had actually passed my first budget and when we took office we had a $3 million budget deficit, we had no idea how we were going to close it. For those who are unfamiliar a $3 million budget deficit would either mean a 15% tax increase — ask your parents how they feel about that — or we’d have to lay off 10% of our city employees.

“I worked for the first 9 months of my term to come up with a plan. It took long days and nights. We merged departments; we streamlined our services; we offered a retirement incentive to ease folks into retirement. We refinanced our debt; we went outside and raised money; we were able to close that $3 million budget deficit without any layoffs and with the lowest tax increase — at just 2% — in 13 years. Nine months I worked on that; we closed the deal right before I went to the White House, that whole thing. Nine months, $3 million, brought in outside money, retirement incentive — posted that whole thing on Facebook. 12 likes. 12 likes. I got to the White House; I had some M&Ms, they had the presidential seal on it — I took a picture, and I’m not kidding you: 1,000 likes. 1,000 likes for M&Ms. Same thing. … I took a picture with President Obama I was crying a little not a big deal. I posted it on Facebook it was the most popular thing I ever posted 5,100 likes. I meet Bill Nye the Science Guy — blew it out of the water, twice as many likes.

“That’s the proof you need that social media is not real life and that how other people view you on social media or outside is not what matters. … I’ve seen so many of my peers take a job because it’s the one that looks best to other people, go to a college that’s not right for them but looks good for their friends and family … take jobs they don’t like, work careers for years in which they’re unsatisfied. I’ve seen folks even marry those they know are not the right partner for them. Someone who looks good to the outside.

If I could encourage you to encourage anything, it’s particularly after the week we had. I know many of you know that last week we lost an Ithacan in the most tragic of circumstances. A tractor trailer lost control of its brakes and slammed into Simeon’s. Amanda Bush was only 27 years old. Her daughter is only 14 months old.

“Days this painful and nights this long should remind all of us that we have no time to waste appearing to be happy. We have no time to waste living a life that looks good to other people. We need every day to live lives that feel good to us because when these painful days hit, when these long nights land, the things that help me sleep are not the package of M&Ms or the pictures with Bill Nye; It’s the good work I’ve done that folks will never see.

“The people I know who are happiest are not seeking new adventures just so they can Instagram them. If I could leave you with any message, if I could encourage you to do anything, it would be to live lives that feel good. Live lives worth being proud of; not because of how they look on the outside, but because of how they feel on the inside. Don’t live lives worth ‘liking,’ live lives worth loving. Congratulations, good luck and god bless.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.