1944 Valedictorian Speech Eerily Relevant Today
My 92 year-old Pop was Willows High School Valedictorian in 1944 (among other cool things, but that’s another blog post). He just passed away recently, and my brother and were sorting out some of his memorabilia. During this process, we came across his Valedictorian Speech. His words were both poignant and relevant to many of the world’s issues and concerns today.
It’s incredible to think that young Dean Bailey would graduate from high school and immediately volunteer to join the US Army. And fight in World War II. At age 18. With our oldest daughter soon to be 18, that just blows my mind. Little did he know his valedictorian speech would be relevant today in 2019.
Valedictorian Speech Relevant Today
Rather than me try to paraphrase, here it is in it’s entirety.
Friends and Fellow Students:
In past years the Valedictorian of the Graduating Class might have spoken about how those going out from such an occasion as this were to take their place in the nation’s industry. Or how some would continue their education among the lines of their individual interests. Today, individual interests are secondary.
Almost over night our country has decreed that boys are now men, and girls are now women. We are called upon to do our part in a cause that stands before us both as a great challenge and a great opportunity for service. We have attended high school as boys but we graduate now as men, many of whom are soon to train for military service. High school girls are quickly becoming women – women who are expected to carry on many types of work that would release men for fighting positions. In this critical situation, the youth of American can be relied upon to fulfill every expectation.
(OK, a little sexist but it was 1944.)
If our way of life is to survive, if our democratic principles are to continue as a basis for our nation’s government, then we must bring this war to a conclusive end. We must win an unconditional surrender from our enemies so that we can build a better world free from tyranny and united with closer and friendlier relations. We must not only win this war, but win our peace also be preparing for it now as well as after the war.
A successful outcome to these preparations requires good leadership. Our leaders in political and community life must be capable, intelligent and honest, worthy of the faith of the people. It is their business to guard the interests of the country that makes it possible for us to live the way we want to live. Leaders can only reflect the characteristics of those who choose them to lead.
If our leaders are to be capable, intelligent and honest, then these characteristics must prevail in us, the voters.
This fact places the responsibility first on the independent citizen. He will be you and I. It is now more than ever our obligation to inform ourselves of the problems that confront our government and our country and come to an understanding on them, realizing that the force of the nation can merely be the combination of forces of all the citizens of the nation.
We must lay aside our individual interests until we have ridden the world of this menace that threatens our very civilization. We cannot win this war as a people pulling against each other, each struggling for our own benefits. These personal ideals are the things we are fighting for, the right to work for what we want, to do as we wish within the limitations of the law. But until this war is over, we have to sacrifice these privileges so that we can work together, as one people united for freedom.
Even now it seems that the light of victory is in sight, but we dare not slacken our pace. The war is yet to be won. The hardest battles are still ahead of us. It is the duty of the people here, on the home front, to stand fast and sacrifice graciously so that the boys over there can come home as quickly as possible, safely and victoriously.
Called to Service
At best, we will have our hands full for a long time to come. Many of us who are not yet in uniform will be called into service soon, and we will be ready. Those of us who are not suitable for military or naval service or who re required for farms and production lines here at home will have to be ready too – ready for more sacrifices, more work, harder work, more sorrow even, and heartache.
But if each person has within his heart the conviction that we can make this war the war to end all wars, that we can have a prolonged peace, then of this we may be certain. That the things we love and live for will be preserved for our children and their children after them, They they will enjoy these things because of us and because of what we are doing. That the day will come when we can once again take up the instruments of peace, proud in the consciousness that we did not stumble or falter when the job was before us.
Memories for Our Children
Everyone should have his reasons for fighting in this war. I have mine. I fight because of my memories – the fun we used to have when we were kids. The football games I’ve played in, sprinting the last stretch in the mile, camping in the mountains with the Boy Scouts. Fishing in the old “Catfish Hole”, my first real date, walking in the rain, listing to good music. Mother, and how she used to tuck me into bed. If people like you and like me do not fight for memories such as these, our children may never experience them. And the world of tomorrow would be a cruel one, indeed, without some pleasant memories of the past.
In closing, I wish to congratulate you, my classmates, on your many outstanding achievements of the past four years. As you go out into this world of today, I hope you will realize that in your hands, my young fellow students, lies the future of our country.
L. Dean Bailey, Willows High School Valedictorian, Class of 1944
What a cool guy, my Pop, and so eloquent at such a tender young age. Innocence forever lost, but so much gained in the process. Thank you Pop, and thanks to all the men and women who gave everything to ensure our freedom, 75 years ago.
And those that serve our country today.