Monday, August 26, 2013

When McMillan Gets Asked to be Inspirational

I'm dusting off my blog tonight to publish the speech I wrote and delivered to our entire student body and staff on the first day of school. (August 21, 2013).  I'm pretty proud of it, and I got a lot of positive responses from it, so I figured I'd take it to the Interwebs.  At least, my little corner of it. 

Here it is.


When I was a senior in high school, I was a section leader in the marching band, the captain of the Varsity Academic Team, and the President of Science Olympiad.  These three facts likely lead many of you to the same conclusion:

DUDE. McMilllan was a nerd in high school!

 And it’s true, I was. 

Unfortunately, for me, being called a nerd always carried a negative connotation; it was more often hurled as an insult rather than a compliment.  But that was then.

I’m envious of those of you who sit in these stands today because, in many ways, the word “nerd” doesn’t really mean that any more.  If anything, we’re living in the era of The Nerd. 

I don’t know when it started, and I don’t know who or what to thank for the fact that nerds are now a huge force in pop culture;

perhaps it was with the pilot of the Big Bang Theory, which enters its seventh season this year,

or maybe it was the creation of Tumblr, which allows ALL THE FANGIRLING of ALL THE SUPERHEROES to happen,

or maybe it was when ComicCon became a force of nature rather than just a convention,

or maybe its as simple the invention of the Internet, which has done a lot of good by connecting a lot of people. Well, aside from holding all of the cat videos…

But whatever it is, I’m glad it happened.

At this point, I know what some of you are thinking: Um, nerds still aren’t cool, McMillan.  I am NOT a nerd.

Well, I hate to break this to you but, yeah, ya are.  And if you’re not, you should be.

Why? Because being a nerd means being passionate enough about something to embrace it with your whole heart.   And I’d like to think that everyone in this audience has something they love that much.

Recently, Wil Wheaton – of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame – was asked at a convention why being a nerd is awesome.  He explained that “it’s not about what you love; it’s about how you love it,” which is, in essence, why all of us should be nerds: because we should love our favorites things so desperately that we have to talk about them and share them with others.  Which probably explains why Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine are so popular: they allow us to prove every day our love for whatever it is we get nerdy about. 

Wheaton went on to explain that it doesn’t matter what the “thing” is that you love: it might be football, dirt biking, watching Disney movies in your Snuggie, Skyrim, horseback riding, bodyboarding, Call of Duty, roller coasters, vintage cars, programming computers – it could be anything, but, to quote Wheaton again, “the way you love it and the way you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd awesome.”

You see, it’s a human thing, this whole “being a nerd” business.  As humans, we gravitate towards others who share our common interests, and as such, we find a community within which to “nerd out” – we find like-minded people to squee with or fistbump about whatever it is we’ve just bought or found or read or windowshopped on Ebay or Etsy. 

So whether you’re a D&Der, a Quidditch hopeful, a Padawan on your way to being a full Jedi, a parkour ninja, a rugby player, a mountain biking champ, a barefoot runner, or newly-minted Vegan; whether you get excited about a new leash for your surfboard, or that new mouthpiece for your instrument, or that 38 people liked the photo of your In The Mix you Instagrammed last night – hashtag last fro yo of freedom – whoever you are and whatever you love, the way you love those things, and the way that you reach out and connect with others who love them, too, is essential to who we are as humans.  It’s our survival strategy.

So, this humble nerd in front of you today – the one who can’t wait for the next season of Sherlock to arrive, and could watch 17 straight hours of Law and Order SVU without ever getting sick of it, and who rereads The Hunger Games once a year to stay inspired – is asking you to do one thing this school year.  Well, one thing in addition to the whole “doing your homework, being respectful to your teachers, getting yourself prepared for the world ahead of you” thing.  

I want you to embrace your inner nerd; embrace the thing or things you love with your whole heart.  And once you’ve done that, I want you to seek out the other nerds who love that same thing you love: seek out other surfers, other photographers, other people anxious to see how the Twelfth Doctor will do.  And TwiHards? Maybe you guys get together and read Salem’s Lot this year. Just a suggestion.  But whoever your people are, find them.  Being involved in a group of people who will care about you and support you in those things you love – whether its in an official club or not --  is going to make this awesome but sometimes kinda awful ride through high school so much better.

Because here’s the thing.  There’s no doubt I was a nerd in high school, but that nerd trifecta I listed in the beginning?  I got to do those three things with other people who were equally as passionate about them as I was – we laughed together, cried together, struggled together, practiced together, traveled together, won awards and lost competitions together, but most importantly, we remained friends, even today, because we still share the common vocabulary of our nerdiness.

So, just one more thing in closing.  Lest someone decide to use this call to action an excuse to try to turn the word “nerd” back into something negative, I suggest to those of you on the receiving end of that nonsense to smile proudly and say, “Thank you.”  Embrace it, because as Tyrion Lannister explains to Jon Snow in the first book of The Game of Thrones: “Never forget who you are, for surely the world won’t. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

Go be nerdy, ladies and gentlemen, and may the Force be with you.


You should really watch Wil Wheaton's whole "Nerds are Awesome" speech, found here on his blog: