Valedictory address anything but routine
SUMMIT COUNTY -Whoever said today’s young people are politically apathetic obviously never spent any time talking with this year’s valedictorian at Summit High School. Top graduate Gabe Wilner has given a lot of thought to the state of the Union and his valedictory .address at Saturday’s commencement ceremony illustrated his willingness to share his views.The concept of “truthiness,” a word coined by commentator Stephen Colbert last October on his show “The Colbert Report,” was the central theme in Wilner’s speech. According to Wilner, truthiness is defined as the quality of something feeling like it’s true, whether it is or not.”It’s not enough to know something in your gut, you have to know it in your head,” he told the packed gymnasium. “Just because something is truthy, it doesn’t make it true.”Wilner encouraged his classmates to look for evidence, and he cautioned them to be skeptical of statements that sound attractive. In a departure from typical graduation commencement addresses, he told the class of 2006 to be suspicious of anyone telling them they can have anything they want if they work for it.”Be wary,” he said. “Realize your dreams are just dreams. Have a backup plan.”Afterward, Wilner expanded on his understanding of the Colbert concept.”Truthiness hurts people,” he said in a conversation the following day. “I think it’s one of the fundamental problems with American society.”
The belief that everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become millionaires contradicts the evidence and is ultimately very destructive to society worries Wilner.”It’s the lie that keeps you from acting in your own self interest,” he said. “You can easily be led down the wrong path.”President of Summit High’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter, Wilner is also critical of what he sees as repression of individual opinion, both within the schools and in society as a whole.”What I’ve encountered in my four years here is a disdain for free speech,” he said. “The system is structured in such a way that fosters an atmosphere of conflict avoidance, rather than defending free speech.” Despite his sharp criticisms of the school system, Wilner is careful to distinguish between the organization and the people in it.”I don’t have anything against them personally,” he said, referring to Summit High’s administration. “They’re great people. The problem is systemic, rather than personal.”Wilner’s critique of American society is far from cynical, though. The 18-year-old has been accepted into a seven-year undergraduate/medical school combined program at Northwestern University near Chicago. He credited the intellectual stimulation and altruism inherent in medicine as major reasons for his attraction to the profession.”I really have a passion for lifelong learning and I also want to make a positive contribution,” he said. As an undergraduate, he plans to major in mathematics and minor in music.When asked if he expects to be politically active in college, Wilner reiterated his commitment to his political ideals.
“If there are injustices, I would hope to work to correct them,” he said.Wilner’s ability to question conventional wisdom served him well as a high school student. This spring, he and partner Evan Sandesmark won the state championship title in public forum debate. A talented musician, his iconoclasm also affects his approach to music. He picked up the tenor saxophone at age 11 and played in the all-state jazz band two years. Wilner said improvisation is vital in his performance and listed such trailblazing jazz musicians as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk as some of his major musical influences.Although critical of school administration during his commencement address, the National Merit scholar acknowledged his gratitude for Summit High’s generally positive learning environment.”Overall, I did enjoy my high school years,” he said. “My teachers were always available. What I admire about them is that they were active and showed a genuine concern for all their students.” Wilner said he’ll miss Summit County, where he lives with parents, Laura and Steve, and younger brother, Lyle, but he’s enthusiastic about his move to Northwestern.”The campus is absolutely beautiful,” he said. “Chicago really is a true American city. There’s so much culture. You can find pretty much anything.”When asked if he thought his political views would be different if his own personal future were not so bright, Wilner didn’t hesitate.
“I think we need to have a participatory economic system,” he said. “Right now, decisions get made on profit and profit alone.” A doctor’s son as well as a future physician, Wilner has no problem challenging more personal sacred cows.”I’d really like to see more of an emphasis on health care for everyone,” he said. And if that means less of an emphasis on paying obscene salaries to doctors, I’m fine with that.”Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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