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President John F. Kennedy on the day of his high school graduation in 1934. This was the commencement of the Greatest Generation of citizens.

Long Time Gone and the 1934 Eads High School Valedictorian Speech: How Has the Thinking of Youth Changed in 90 Years?


By Betsy Barnett

June 4, 2024

The Eads High School Class of 1934 created a full booklet of information about them, their school, and their graduation ceremony. The senior edition was dated May 18, 1934, and the front cover featured a letter to the 1934 graduates from the “Eads Teachers.”

That message read:

CONGRATULATIONS—SENIORS

According to Emerson, “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”

You, as Graduates, are now entering upon an entirely different period of your careers, as compared to the past years of grade and high schools. What you will now do is not so much predetermined as was the experience of the past twelve years. Your own individual initiative will play a much greater part in your choices, endeavors, and achievements than has been true in the past. You will now receive your “plot of ground to till” for yourselves.

Yet we, who have been your teachers, shall keep alive our vital interest in you, always. We desire to be abiding friends. Your successes, we shall rejoice to consider as a part of our success and happiness.

As you go out from us, our appreciation for, and our confidence in you remain as an everlasting part of us.

Keep going forward! Cultivate courage, vision, wholesome aspirations, and thrift. We believe in you! We congratulate you and wish you all that is desirable and profitable.

Keep in mind that this graduation came in a year where southeast Colorado was in the very depths of the Great Depression that caused dozens of people to move out of the region. Those that were left still looked to the future with optimism.

Below is the 1934 Valedictorian Speech written and presented by Irene Strahan. Her family were business people in the town of Eads. Miss Strahan’s speech gives us an idea of what was on a high school person’s mind nearly a century ago:

We who stand tonight at the meeting between a happy past and an unknown future have reached not the end but the commencement of our lives. It is a vital truth in the life of every individual, and day by day, hour by hour, as we enjoy the benefits of every passing experience we are, consciously or unconsciously, signing our name to life’s same old promissory note “For value received, I promise to pay.” In these few words, commonplace and ordinary as they may seem to us through continual and thoughtless usage, lies the real keynote of all human life.

Gentlemen of the Board of Education, we realize that it is your silent influence at work through the undercurrents of our school activities that has laid the foundation for this hour and has made it possible for us to stand here before you. As we linger tonight upon the threshold of active life, the doors of our schools and its education and protective advantages swinging behind us, the question naturally arises in your minds, as well as in every one of ours, “Just what are we going to get out of life, anyway?” We feel that you have a right to ask and expect a full and frank reply. But indeed, there is only one sure and satisfactory answer. We are going to get out of life just exactly what we pay for it—just exactly what we put into it—just exactly what we will agree to buy from the world, at the figures the ages have placed upon all life’s gifts. It all rests with us. Everything in the world has its price, and we cannot gain one advancement nor advantage without, some time or another, being called upon to pay every ounce of its value.

It remains for each one of us to decide within ourselves what we most earnestly desire to get out of life—what is really most worth our while—and then reasonably and deliberately to sit down and count the cost. For, although there are always a great many people everywhere attempting to work their smooth bit of “graft upon the world,” and frustrate the whole scheme of creation by getting something for nothing, it has never yet proven to be a successful venture, and while the “mills of God grind slowly” sometimes, yet the hour of reckoning always comes to every individual, teaching him sometimes by payment of long years of accumulated interest on the overdue account, that “with exactness, grinds He all.” Sooner or later every account comes up for full settlement.

Members of the Faculty, we now begin to grasp a little bit more definitely the value of your work in instilling into our minds a few of your own noble principles and lofty ideals. We begin to realize how grateful we must be to you for these years of training throughout all life to be.

What a big thought it is that from this time on we have the shaping of our destinies in our own hands. All these years of our student life we have been, for the most part, on the receiving hands. Life has been showering upon us its best gifts. While it is true that we have justly earned a certain portion of all that we have attained, there is a great deal of the subtle inner development, that gradual, day-by-day character building, that almost invisible growth and expansion of the dormant man and woman within us, for which we are still indebted to all the influences, both seen and unseen, that have been brought to bear upon us through all these years.

We stand tonight at the very gateway of life’s activities, prepared by all these years of careful, painstaking instruction, and watchful, ever-vigilant guidance, for the struggle with that real vital existence that awaits us on the other side. As we look back, how easy it is to estimate, by the landmarks along the road, the “value received” of our school career! Now the time has come for the working out of our “promise to pay!” The world will at once commence to look for us to pay back into its treasury the wealth of good things it has for so long been bestowing upon us. It will demand our noblest revelations of character, our highest demonstrations of every latent possibility of attainment, our truest, tenderest attention to the needs of every brother or sister, our most faithful, self-sacrificing service. It will remind us, at every turn of the road, of that note always standing in our name with its never-failing “For value received, I promise to pay!” It will never once let us forget the cost of life—the constant expense that must be met—the unfailing price that must be paid for every gift—not in dollars and cents, but in service, in faithfulness to duty, in the uplift of our neighbor—yes sometimes,—perhaps, in unavailing pain and heartache and tears.

So, as we step forth through the gateway tonight, let us walk out into the world bravely, with a full realization of all that will be expected of us, but just as full realization of our own ability to meet every requirement. We have within our own souls the full value of every gift we could possibly crave out of life’s great storehouse. There is absolutely nothing too expensive for us to buy with the assets at our disposal. Let us, then resolve that we will keep our record so stainless, our ideals so lofty and unsullied, our account with life so accurately balanced, as we go, that there will never be any bad debts standing out against us, but that the “For value received, I promise to pay, “ as represented by our diplomas, may be only a pleasurable reminder of a most enjoyable duty and enviable privilege as we look the world in the face, feeling that we have a full claim upon such portions as we wish to make our own, our hearts joyously and gratefully responding to the divine command of old, “Freely ye have received, freely give!”

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