July 2021 - Graduation Speeches by Thomas McGall and Josh Tanaka

Thomas McGall

Hi, for those who don't know me, my name is Thomas McGall. This past week I graduated from high school. Despite the pandemic and thanks to the help of countless parent volunteers and school admin, I was lucky enough to have a full week of in person events from the graduation ceremony itself to a traditional prom, celebrating the achievements of my entire class with my friends and family. While this past week has been exhausting, it was filled with joy and served as a reminder of the close bonds I’ve formed with countless people throughout my high school experience.

For a while now, I’ve been expecting a certain epiphany and emotional reaction that tends to come at the end of every high school student's career. A moment of hard realization that the people you have spent so much time with and have become so close with will soon no longer be in your life. Teachers, friends and others who define your day to day life will be gone.

This wave of emotion did not come for me on the last day of school when I expected it and it did not come on graduation when I expected it next. I began to wonder if I was not sad because I had been distanced from my class for so long and was used to being physically separated from my peers. But as I celebrated with my friends and classmates, I was reminded of the love I have for all of them. I knew I would miss them.

As I reflected on what I believed to be a lack of an appropriate reaction, and tried to figure out exactly what I was feeling I reconnected with the concept of impermanence, an idea Buddhism introduced into my life that has helped shape my personal philosophy. I remembered that this was not the first time I had been in a situation like this. While most people have grown up with the same people going to elementary, middle and high school together, I had been in a different school system for all three periods. I had been asked to start over again multiple times, and while leaving behind old school friends was hard, it had taught me to appreciate and embrace change as I made new friends and was able to grow in new environments. When I encountered the idea of impermanence in Buddhism, It allowed me to identify and conceptualize the sensation I had been struggling with in each of these transitions. In its simplest terms impermanence is the idea that nothing is forever and everything changes. While that may initially seem like a bleak take, impermanence is truly beautiful. Since we know most things are temporary, it allows us to fully appreciate them while we have them. It gives the present more value since we know things will not always be this way. It allows us to be excited for the future even when we have to leave the past behind and it reminds us to embrace change openly since it is an unavoidable part of life.

As I thought about all of this I had my moment of realization. However, it was not one of sadness. I knew I was going to miss my fellow classmates and friends but I realized that the impermanence of our time together was what made it so special. I was not sad but overwhelmed with appreciation for the experiences and time I spent alongside my friends. Simultaneously, while I knew high school was ending, I was reminded that change is made of sacrifices and rewards. Even though I was leaving so much behind I knew there is even more waiting for me in the next chapter of my life. As I give this speech, I am sad to physically leave this community as well. Some of my fondest memories are here spending my days at Medaka, running around the Obon and hanging out with the rest of the Jr. YBA. However, knowing those times would not last forever I have been able to enjoy and cherish those experiences to the fullest extent. While my childhood at the Palo Alto Buddhist temple is over I will always value the lessons I have learned and memories I have made here. Thank you.

Biography: Thomas McGall is graduating senior from Palo Alto High School. His parents are Glenn McGall and Lisa Kajisa. In high school Thomas enjoyed spending his time playing sports and doing community service. In the fall he will be attending UCLA for engineering.

Josh Tanaka

My life as a Buddhist… It's hard for me to gather all my thoughts and memories from all the way back to my childhood. One recollection I remember was having to always be bugged at 9:30 in the morning to leave for the temple. Keep in mind I was relatively young, my attention span was at an all-time low so listening to the Reverend's talks flew past my head. The only real reason I had the motivation to get out of bed back then was because of the free food after the Dharma message.

As I grew older I began to take the Dharma messages a little more seriously, reflecting on how I could take the message and use it for real world decisions. Still, I was young so despite thinking this in my head I never actually reflected the message outside of the temple. I was still my ordinary self, doing things and I knew if I had paid more attention to what I was doing I wouldn’t have done it if I was taking the messages to a higher level of seriousness. I recall my parents always telling me “That’s not very Buddhist of you” or, “Remember what Revered mentioned in his message… you should apply that to school”. Even though I would always be reminded of these things I never really bothered to apply it to the real world.

Looking back in retrospect, I realize that I should’ve taken the messages to heart and applied them everywhere, and what my actions meant towards a Buddhist level. Being Buddhist doesn’t just mean going to the temple and attending service, Buddhism isn’t only restrained at the temple, it's more than that, it’s applying what we learn from our teachings wherever we go. It took me awhile to understand this but when I did so I realized how relevant it was to my life and how better of a person I became. It seemed that when times were tough, or when life seemed to kick my butt, the Buddhist teachings were always with me. Even when I was little, losing basketball games, or getting bad grades the teachings were always with me then but I never acknowledged how the Dharma messages impacted me.

We were always taught in Dharma School to give back, I remember cooking and giving food for homeless shelters, knitting blankets for those in need of them, cleaning up local parks, and doing small things for the community. These actions of giving back allowed me to carve a path for me to follow the footsteps of what was taught in Dharma School, what was given to me I shall give back. Now, in affiliation with the Jr. YBA we provide lunch and dinners for all that attend, as well as helping serve for the Buddhist Temple, and the Obon. Outside of the temple, I’ve helped local farmers in Hawaii, teach kids fundamental skills of basketball, and many more activities.

Buddhism isn’t just every Sunday, but every day. It has taught me many things and has changed who I am as a person. As I now prepare myself for the next chapter of my life I will always remember to stay connected with Buddhism for the limited amount of time I spent from my childhood to high school. It shall forever last in guiding me through life.

Biography: I'm a senior at Gunn high school, soon to be attending University of Washington majoring in computational finance and risk management. I play varsity basketball for high school and I play trumpet in the Symphonic band. One thing you may not know about me is that I have a dog named Tasha.

Congratulations to the graduates and continuing students of life!