Graduation Guest Speaker 2017: Zadoc Angell
District Superintendent Mr. Henner, Principal Berson, Mrs. Eaves, President of the Board of Education Mr. Foster, Ms. Kalin, the teachers and staff of Otselic Valley, and most especially to you, the Class of 2017, thank you for inviting me to speak here today. It is truly an honor to be here with you on your graduation day. I’m especially grateful to speak for a class to which I am so connected. So how small town is this?! Out of a graduating class of 20, I’m related to two of you. That’s 10 percent!
Jordan Baerga, I remember meeting you as a 5-year-old when you and your wonderful mom Becky came into my cousin Dan’s life. You were a loud and rambunctious 5-year-old with tons of energy, and I’m sorry we didn’t have any other little kids for you to play with. You’ve grown up into a great basketball player and a wonderful big brother.
Peter Kalin, I remember the day you were born. Literally. I was a senior at Otselic Valley in 1999, and I distinctly remember January 8th of that year. It started as a Friday like any other for your mom, Chris Kalin, teaching English as usual from a classroom on the second floor. But then her water broke midday and she had to go to the hospital to give birth to you. Chris literally worked up until the last minute!
As I was preparing this speech and thinking fondly about Peter’s birth, it struck me that 1999 was just 18 years ago. Back when I was 18 myself. 1999 is the year most of you were BORN. Now let me tell you how different life was back then. We had dial-up internet. The top song was “Believe” by Cher and the top TV shows were “ER” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The president was Bill Clinton. And the Syracuse basketball coach was Jim Boeheim. Well, at least some things never change!
I want to tell you all what a wonderful privilege it was to grow up in South Otselic. In the Otselic Valley School District. In Chenango County, New York. In small town America.Class of 2017, you probably think growing up in a small town is a common thing. But it’s not, actually. Only 14% of the US population lives in rural areas. If you grew up on a farm like I did, it’s even less: under 2% of the population works in agriculture. Otselic Valley School District has some of the smallest class sizes in the country--and a teacher to student ratio of 11 to 1. Growing up rural has given you experiences and values other American 18-year-olds will never know. You and me, we have surprisingly unique childhoods.
I grew up 3 miles up the road from here on Mariposa Road, Chenango County Route 13. Many of you know my parents, Jeanne and Glenn Angell, who raised me and my sister Amy on our 400 acre dairy farm. Glenn and Jeanne were probably hoping for a strapping young son who wanted to milk cows and drive tractors, but when you name your kid Zadoc, you’re kind of asking for it! As a kid I was drawing and painting and taking art lessons from Miss Blake. I fell in love with television, and I created storybooks and scripts for my favorite TV shows. I was a TV nerd born on a farm in Chenango County--what the heck would I do with that? But I had the love and support of my parents and my teachers at Otselic Valley to pursue my dreams. Remember that your dreams are just big goals. In order to achieve your goals, you have to take steps to achieve them. Take action, put in effort, and you will get closer and closer to your goal.
After graduation, I went to Harvard for college. I became a film major there. My poor parents! Your kids gets into Harvard and he majors in film?! What was I thinking? But I decided to follow my passion. I dreamed of working in television. So how did I do it? How do you turn a dream into a reality? I took lots of baby steps and worked like crazy to get there. I moved to Los Angeles--3,000 miles and a whole world away because that’s where they make TV. We call it “La La Land” for a reason: the city is full of hopeful dreamers.
Bound and determined, I made sacrifices to make it work. I rented in a house with 4 roommates. I ate at McDonald’s for dinner. I racked up credit card debt just to survive. Then I got my first job working for 50 hours a week for minimum wage as an assistant to two agents. What’s an assistant? It’s Hollywood-speak for someone’s secretary. I would come home to South Ot at Thanksgiving, and I’d have to tell my family that their fancy Los Angeles cousin was basically answering phones and fetching coffee for a living. But slowly and surely, I kept my nose to the proverbial grindstone, worked hard, read a lot, impressed the right people, and I got promoted. To department coordinator. Which is industry-speak for department slave. I worked more hours for not much more money for two more years. And then, finally, my company promoted me to Agent, so I could represent writers and directors and help them get work on television shows. And 3 years later, I became a Manager for TV writers. And today, I run television at my company, Echo Lake Entertainment. And, just like that, I had achieved my dream--my dream to work in television.
Growing up rural has always been an advantage for me in the business. It makes me unusual. Interesting. Honest and trustworthy in a world of slick sellers. People in the entertainment industry love to tell their “origin stories.” Where did you come from? How did you get here? And that’s because almost everyone comes from somewhere else. We all left our homes and families, moved to another state to a strange city, and decided that somehow, with little more than passion and hope, we could achieve our dreams. So people in LA ask me all the time, “Where do you come from?” And I LOVE to tell them, “I grew up on a farm in South Otselic, New York!” And they look at me with surprise--”YOU grew up on a FARM?!” And then inevitably they will ask, “Where’s South Otselic?!” So I say, well, it’s 45 minutes from Ithaca. Okay, an hour south of Syracuse. Okay, 5 hours northwest of New York City. I promise you, you’ve never heard of it!
So a kid from a farm on Route 13 makes it in Hollywood. I have lived a very unlikely life. But you grew up here, too. And each of you can follow your dreams. They don’t have to be out of state or in a big city. Dreams come in all sizes and they are unique to each of you. So you see, you too can grow up here and achieve your own unlikely life.
I LOVE being from a small town. Growing up here gave me such incredible values that I have carried into my adulthood. You possess them, too. Now that you’re graduating, you can share those gifts with the world out there.
There are 5 great gifts I believe growing up in our small town gives you.
You may not appreciate it now, but you got a unique education here at Otselic Valley. You had very small class sizes and tons of one-on-one attention from your educators. You have had teachers who really, truly cared about you. I think it’s remarkable that this small school can offer so much to its students: everything from soccer and wrestling to agriculture and college-level classes to fall plays and spring musicals. And you get to do it on your own terms, with no worry about ever getting lost or forgotten. You cannot hide from Mr. Foor-Pessin! In a school as small as ours, you can participate in everything--you can play on a sports team, be the lead in a play, be a cheerleader, lead the FFA, and experience every opportunity.
Hard Work Ethic--
Growing up rural teaches you a strong work ethic. No one else is going to fix those frozen water pipes or shovel the snow in your driveway for you. Growing up on a farm gave me a relentless work ethic. Somethings it’s exhausting--thanks, Mom!--but more often it’s a huge blessing. That farmer work ethic has taught me to always give 100%. Never complain. Be a team player. Your dreams can only be accomplished through consistent and cheerful hard work. You can do it.
From everything I’ve been told about the Class of 2017, you all care deeply about your families. I believe that that is absolutely a reflection of your small town roots. When you grow up rural, you spend more time with your relatives--whether you want to or not! Otselic Valley is full of families who have known each other for generations and whose kids and grandkids have been going to OV for decades. I definitely noticed some familiar last names when I saw your class roster: Cruikshank, Hackett, Stone, and Waltz. The family ties run deep in our valley. You will pass your love of family onto your own children and grandchildren.
Growing up country, you have all been given the gift of nature. Nature is all around you: somewhere cows are being milked, skunks are spraying your pets, and deer are crashing into your car. You have lived 18 years of intense seasons--endless winter, muddy spring, humid summer, and finally, crisp, foliage-filled fall. You may not think these things are special now, but if you lived in perpetually sunny Los Angeles, you would miss them. I even miss thunderstorms! Being close to nature is something sacred. It’s something city people don’t quite understand. Growing up rural has taught me to take that weekend walk in the woods, to care for our dog, to soak up the wind and appreciate its rustling in the leaves of the trees. Humans need nature, and you will carry that appreciation of nature throughout your lives.
Rural people help each other. My father used to take my sister and me to pick berries at the u-pick farm. We would spend the day in the hot sun bending over and plucking strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Then, my dad would drive us across the countryside stopping at friends’ and relatives’ homes, and we would just give away every single quart of berries we picked! It kind of annoyed me growing up, but now I appreciate it. That neighborly spirit of generosity can be found throughout our area. The South Otselic United Methodist Church, where I spent many Sundays, rarely pays for its labor--it’s the church’s own members that do all the cleaning and fixing. Recently, you all have started this wonderful new Backpack community initiative to make sure everyone’s kids have access to healthy food year round. I think it’s great. And you have to look no further than the accidental burning of the Cox Block to witness our small community coming together in support of each other. Growing up rural teaches you to give selflessly to your fellow man and woman.
Five rural values: Education, Work Ethic, Family, Nature, and Charity. You each have these same gifts from growing up rural. They will give you the tools and confidence you need to succeed in this world.
If a farm kid from South Otselic can make it in the entertainment industry, then you too can achieve whatever you put your mind to. Remember that your DREAMS are just GOALS that you can TAKE ACTION to achieve. Now is the time in your life to DREAM BIG. But remember that a dream untended will simply die. You need to feed your dream, work for it, and take action in order to make your dreams REAL. Growing up rural has given you all the values and tools you need to make it happen.
To each member of the Class of 2017, I say go forward and live your own unlikely life! Dream big, work hard, and enoy the journey. Congratulations, Class of 2017!
(Copyright 2017 by Zadoc Angell)