Wow! Here it is…the moment I’ve been envisioning since Arinze gave his address and I realized we were all doing this. Time really is amazing. It’s mind blowing to think that on Tuesday of last week, I graduated from high school, completing the first major milestone of my life, when it seems like just yesterday I was right up there receiving my birthday blessing, joking with father Barry, telling him that I was turning 18 when in reality, I was only turning 14. I’ll never forget the look on his face as deacon Liz burst out in laughter. Well here I am today, actually an 18 year old, standing before this wonderful congregation, as all my siblings and peers have, prepared to give you an address that I have worked tirelessly to put together.

It’s truly an honor to continue the precedence set by such amazing and inspiring friends and family.

Just in case you didn’t know, I’m the youngest of 5 children. And although it’s nice to know that God decided to save the best for last, as the youngest, I really have my work cut out for me.

I’m at the end of the line for hand-me downs, always on the losing end of arguments, and not to mention, everything that gets broken in the house is magically my fault. Okay, maybe I’m partially to blame for that last one.

But undeniably the biggest downside of being the youngest for me was the pressure of living up to the self-imposed expectation of achieving greatness like my older siblings who only seem to reach further and shine brighter each and every day. And with each successive Obi, as the achievements became greater, and the trophies more numerous, the fear of failure increased proportionally. I was holding myself to this imaginary standard that I was the only one enforcing, fighting ghosts and losing to the invisible enemy. I felt that the only way to succeed was to beat everyone else, and this competitive nature was leading me down the path of self destruction. Always wanting to be, or be better than the person next to me. It was a poisonous mindset, slowly draining the life from me.  And when I would talk to my peers, with their own reasons and motivations, they were all saying the same thing: that they were fighting to get to the top.

Imagine that, an environment where everyone’s only looking out for themselves, where everyone’s going to get ahead at any cost, where no one cares about the wellbeing of others. To me, that sounds like a breeding ground for animosity, isolation, and overall unhappiness.

Well, welcome to high school.

It was unbelievable how competitive the kids were at my school, resorting to any method it took to get ahead, no matter how underhanded or dishonest. Cheating was the norm, lying and backstabbing wasn’t uncommon, relationships were ruined daily, all to be number 1.

And of course, this came with its consequences. In a school with almost 3000 kids, people were lonely and miserable. And when that sadness and loneliness gets to a certain point it becomes depression and hopelessness… the formula for erratic decisions that can be harmful to one’s self or their community. And then of course, nobody talks about it because we’re masking the pain with Snapchat filters and Instagram selfies or busy idolizing the lives of celebrities and pop culture.

I believe we live in a truly broken society, one that puts too great of an emphasis on the ego, fosters hostility, and responds to problems after the fact, when it’s too late. Violence and depression runs rampant in our nation like a plague, and the problem lies deep within our core principles.

22… when that many kids are being gunned down, just this year, in our schools of all places, a bigger discussion beyond what was written on a piece of paper over 200 years ago has to be had.

I mean kids were killed.

Sons, daughters, cousins, brothers, sisters, friends. Kids like me, with plans for the future, who also might’ve gotten full rides to the university of their choice, with their own individual hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations. Loving family members like you all, are left with nothing more than memories and speculations of what could have been. Generations, and the hope of many more offspring to come were lost. Hope. Hope was lost. And if there’s no hope, what is there?

This Season of Pentecost, we’re reminded of the feeling of hopelessness and despair. Like the disciples after Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we’re lost and confused, not knowing where to go or what’s gonna happen next. However, we’re also reminded of Jesus’ promise to humanity of salvation, and like those disciples in the upper room, as they awaited the Holy Spirit, must exercise a little patience.

As the book of Corinthians tells us, “judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

Good things are coming, and although our vision of those things is clouded by disaster and disease, death and destruction, those good things are still there, waiting for us at the end of the road. So I believe this is just the beginning, and my admission to Vanderbilt University this fall, as well as the life of my friends in Christ and my family, including you all, is testimony to that.

I have hope in a future where love is a greater presence than hate, and where everyone can respect each other’s differences and grades instead of shaming or attacking them for them.

Because although we have volcanic eruptions destroying homes, pseudo presidencies, scandal after scandal, and Kanye West, I’m reminded of the St. Augustines of the world, and my hope in humanity is renewed.

And I want to thank from the bottom of my heart this wonderful presence we have here because, and I know I speak for my siblings and every young adult that’s stood on this podium to this day, St. Augustine’s has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, positive influence in our lives. Thank you for being the hope I have in humanity. You guys are the best.

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