4000 Feet Above Average (for Lees​-​McRae College)

by Hakim Be

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Commissioned for the 2016 Freshman Convocation at my alma mater, Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.


4000 Feet Above Average hakim bellamy
for Lees-McRae College

A little over 4000 people
have summited Mt. Everest.

This is one of the most exclusive
collections of individuals…

One of the most elusive
of shared experiences…

The most memorable of fraternities
The Five Mile High Club…

And even though these 4000 humans
may have never met one another
they know exactly what each and every one of them
is made of.

4000 feats.

They are related.
Just like every single mountain,

Connected beneath us.

Sugar, Beech, Black
and Blue Ridge,
when your school is peaking
please overstand this

no matter how tall that mountain is
you are plus 4, 5, 6 feet higher
when you are standing on top of it.

And when you earn a degree
in walking amongst giants,
you will have doubters…

people who don’t believe what you say
because they can’t see what you saw.

Just ask Moses.
Ask Martin Luther King.
The mountaintop can be a lonely place.

But not here
where there’s a 620 million year-old Grandfather
in that mountain
collecting all your stories
for generations of bedtimes
you will never meet.

A river
that has sworn to keep all your secrets. Both

as proof that your feet
have made a halo of this place.

But in the event of, tomorrow.
Even if the mountains stopped talking
and the river stopped shhhhh-ing…

There will always be proof
of your accomplishment.

The small band of “others”
who have seen the stars
up close enough to recognize the scent
of supernova.

The difference in sound
that the leaves make beneath the foot of bear
or bobcat.

The unidentifiable color of horizon
in a haze of sunken sun.

The stuck of pine needles
sapped to your fingertips.

The twinkle of cabin windows
in the distance.

Look around you
there are other survivors.

280 people have died
trying to climb Mt. Everest.

All 4000 people who made it,
remember every last one of those 280 names.

Fortunately, we all have a mountain
inside of us, that has a zero fatality rate
to date.

Only a future with you on top of it.

And Lees-McRae is the kinda place
where we stack textbooks
instead of ladders to teach the many different ways
of climbing success.

even if your idea of success
is just the cookie jar on top of the fridge.

Because here
is the perfect training ground
for people who will one day find themselves
in high places.

And everybody knows that bobcats do not get altitude sickness.

At the apex
of yourself, victorious
atop the rock and rumble that is your life.
you will find that it is not always lonely
at the top.

That when you tower your very impressive 4, 5, or 6 feet.
above the mountain…and look down ridge
from crest to crest
you can see each other

Promising. This
the rarest of classes.
The opposite of a “C” level education
this is 4000 feet above average.

Where we go camping
like it’s short for campus

Where you learn that morning fog
is nothing more than a cloud landing,
and there’s something special about being able to inhale heaven
on your way to class.

Where we believe the canyons were made
to fill with the echo of bagpipes.

And we gather round bonfires
like Grandfather Mountain has a crowd
on the tip of his tongue.

Your life is a legend.

There will never be another 116th class
of new students at Lees-McRae ever again.

And 20 years from now, at a cocktail party,
someone in this room will tell a story starring you
even though they haven’t seen you in ten.

Because memories are more fun with friends.

You will always be more than just
somebody who climbed a mountain.

You will always be more than one
in 4000.

You are an accomplice to an oft repeated punchline.
You are riding shotgun to the times of one another’s lives.
You are the alibi to someone’s greatest accomplishment
The key witness to the most unbelievable story ever
Evidence that all bobcats are made…
of mountains.

Proof that there is life
after the top.

And that it is certainly not
all downhill
from here.

© Hakim Bellamy August 9, 2016


released August 18, 2016
Hakim Bellamy



all rights reserved


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Hakim Be Albuquerque, New Mexico

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