On the evening of June 4th, I was at a graduation in my hometown of Del Rio, Texas. Tonight was extra special, not only because the First Lady of Texas, Anita Perry, was the commencement speaker, but because it was the largest graduating class in Del Rio history!
Before the graduation began, the First Lady held a reception in the school’s library, and I was invited to attend. It was a very nice and non-partisan event despite the fact that State Representative Pete Gallego had been the one to invite the First Lady to our town.
Representative Gallego spoke about the Anita Perry he knew–an Anita Perry who may not be an elected official but serves a very important role in the legislature. Mr. Gallego joked that the First Lady reserves the ability to relieve tensions in the midst of intense political debates with food, as she always keeps her kitchen open.
Before Mrs. Perry even spoke, I could tell that her speech was going to be genuine and motivational in a sweet way that only the First Lady of Texas could pull off. After mingling with local officials and the First Lady, we moved onto the school’s stadium to begin the ceremonies.
As I expected, Anita Perry’s speech was genuine, but she ended up exceeding my expectations as she was actually pretty funny and relatable. She began her speech by reminiscing on her graduating class of 56 and when she met a young boy she affectionately called “Ricky Perry”. She even poked a little fun at our Governor because “he had 13 graduating seniors in his class and is proud to say he was top boy.”
Mrs. Perry went on to stress the importance of hard work and integrity in everything you do because it doesn’t matter where you come from; our success is based upon our own work ethic. The First Lady’s definition of integrity is “doing the right thing when nobody is looking.” She went on to encourage the graduates to “do the right thing, and do it with pride!” Del Rio High School had a great year and was extremely proud of the fact that this was its largest graduating class. Anita Perry’s speech was aimed at utilizing these successes in encouraging the graduates to continue working to achieve even higher goals.
Though it was obviously not a political event, I hinted a little bit of conservatism in Mrs. Perry’s message. Near the end of her speech, she quoted a study that suggested that most students believe “the ends justify the means.” This obviously contradicted the First Lady’s message of working hard and maintaining one’s integrity and pride in whatever you pursue.
My favorite part of her speech was her quip that the study obviously didn’t include any Texans because “We Texans are more likely to do the right thing because our family, faith, and sense of community have given us a strong moral compass.” What made this part especially sappy (yet appropriate for the occasion) was her acknowledgement of the graduates’ families by suggesting that the graduates stay true to their loved ones and “do the right thing because you respect the people around you–the people who love you.”
Ultimately, the First Lady’s speech was pretty short at about 10 minutes, which made the speech even more effective. Even though they were graduating high school, the students do not really have too much of an attention span for their speaker; they’re just ready to graduate! Anita Perry’s speech was genuine, inspirational, and effective. Tonight I heard it said that if more people in public service were like Anita Perry, this nation would be a much better place, and I can’t say I disagree with that assessment.