'Modern Family': How to Give a Middle School Graduation Speech


"Smart" girl Alex gets a lesson from her not-so-dumb-after-all sister, Haley

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I have a girl crush on Haley Dunphy, and (finally!) this week's episode of Modern Family has given me a reason to brag about her. Alex is graduating middle school and as class valedictorian—her competitor Sanjay Patel got attacked by a robot, so he's out—she has to give the class speech. As she's practicing for the big day, Haley overhears her nerdtastic sister's musings. Alex plans on taking down the popular elite with a rant about how the cool kids ignored her while she silently rose to the top by not caring about boys or skinny jeans.

Haley, a popular girl who rocks a lot of skinny jeans, not only finds Alex's speech offensive, but recognizes that it is social suicide. She knows Alex will crush any possibility of reinventing herself in high school by hating on all of her classmates at the ceremony. Instead of railing on the people, Haley suggests Alex nix the lecture and Google some song lyrics. Alex refuses.

I find the Alex cliche—smart equals uncool—a little unbelievable. All the smart kids I knew growing up weren't losers. The intelligent young woman who gave the speech at my middle school graduation may not have known much about skinny jeans (flares were hip back then!) but she definitely cared about boys and popularity. And, she for sure Googled her entire speech (whatever, the crowd had no idea—they loved it).

The Haley cliche, on the other hand, makes more sense. Sure, not all popular kids fit the pretty-but-dumb paradigm, but some of them do, and Haley plays the part so well. The girls drive to the ceremony together. Upon arrival Haley urges Alex, again, to give up her original diatribe. Haley even tries to pilfer the speech, but of course her uber-organized sister has extra copies. But then comes Haley's moment, where she actually acts smart (instead of playing to her dumb-girl cliche). She tells Alex the real reason not to give her speech: some of the popular kids (i.e. Haley) don't have it so good, after all. They're failing classes, might not get into college, have to attend summer school. It sucks. And, Haley, tears welling up in her big-round doe eyes, makes us believe that she really feels it. Conversely, Alex still has the chance to "have it all": smarts, popularity, beauty—an actual possibility for a smart high school girl. If only she wouldn't blow it by alienating herself forever with her planned speech.

Oh Haley, you're not as dumb as you've been made out to be.

Eventually Alex gives in and delivers an embarrassing impromptu speech that of course everyone loves because nobody expects much out of an eighth grade graduation talk. Alex may have gotten all the attention from her family, but tonight, Haley's performance stole my heart, bringing my girl crush to a whole new level.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

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