Senior Speeches: Jonah Kagen

January 19, 2018

“Work hard. Cherish your life. Love. Be different. Don’t be a jerk. Take a risk, because if you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life wondering what could have happened if you had.”

Each year, seniors at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School deliver a speech to their peers on a topic of their choosing in the Newhall Auditorium. Often equal parts clever and moving, emotional and personal, each speech offers a glimpse into the lives, experiences, struggles, and triumphs of SSM seniors.

Throughout the 2017-18 school year, we will share these speeches with the SSM community and hope that you enjoy the humor, wisdom, and powerful reflections conveyed by our senior students.

Jonah Kagen

“My dad told me once, “Whatever you decide to do, just remember that you’re a Kagen, and anything done by a Kagen is done right. You take pride in everything you do.” Everybody in my family knows it. Work your butt off, or you ain’t welcome here.

“While my dad was the one who more precisely verbalized our family philosophy, my mom is definitely the foremost advocate of that concept. She is, as she describes herself, “a wealth of knowledge, whether you like it or not.” I’ve heard her say, “It’s too much work for one person, unless that person is me,” or “I’m too focused to laugh.” She asked me once, “Are you smart enough not to go in stupid?” Granted, she’s also said things like, “It’s hard being this likable,” and “I’m not really in competition with people, I just like when I’m first.”

“Regardless, my parents and my sister are my role models, and they’ve taught me so much about what it means to live a meaningful life. For this speech, I decided to share with y’all some of the things that I live by and some of the things that I have learned from my family and experience, things that have made me who I am and gotten me to where I am now.  

1) “Value the little things, every single day. If you don’t, life can be miserable. Value a smile, a laugh, a song. Value a person that makes your days better. Value someone immediately agreeing to travel thousands of miles to introduce you for your senior speech, no questions asked. Basically, strive to be Will Ferrell in Elf. Value your life in general, because it is our most precious gift, and you can’t ever forget that.

2) “Never forget your roots. I’m proud to be from the South, and my hometown is tattooed on my chest forever. But most importantly, no matter how successful or unsuccessful you are, always have pride in who you are as a person, and never forget that behind all of your successes and failures lie the unconditional sacrifices of your family.

3) “Don’t be a jerk. Simple but very important. Being a nice guy can get you so far. You create incredible relationships and generally stay out of drama, which is always nice. I like to go with the belief that if you’re a jerk, the universe will return the favor. Say ma’am and sir, hold the door, look people in the eye, and adults might just pass out.

4) “If you tell someone you love them, you better mean it. And if you are lucky enough that someone you love loves you back, it is your duty to do everything in your power to make sure they are happy. That one is more of a personal quirk.

5) “Don’t quit. If y’all take one thing from this speech, this should be it. I will continue to tell this story for the rest of my life. When Cornell University first saw me play, we were losing 7-0. The coach was there to watch someone on the other team, and I had no idea he was there. However, he noticed me, in the final minutes of the game, still going, still giving everything. He later told me that it was one tackle just before the final whistle that especially caught his attention. All it took was one tackle, and I have a future I could have only dreamed of. My point is, you never know who is watching, and you can never ever quit. No matter what you’re doing, think for a second that there is someone working harder than you right now, and I guarantee you’ll get your butt to work.

“I could go on and on, but I hope you are all able to take something away from this today and run with it. Work hard. Cherish your life. Love. Be different. Don’t be a jerk. Take a risk, because if you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life wondering what could have happened if you had. Thank you.”

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