This past weekend I graduated from high school! The official ceremony was really nice and afterwards we had a party at my house. The entire day was perfect- I celebrated with lots of family, friends, and teachers.
Another exciting thing about the day is that I spoke at the graduation ceremony because I was the valedictorian! I was nervous while speaking in front of the 5000 people there, but people said I didn’t sound or look nervous. I hadn’t let anyone read my speech before the ceremony for several reasons. First of all, I wanted it to be a surprise, especially to my family. And I also didn’t want anyone suggesting that I change or edit parts. It’s not that I didn’t think that people wouldn’t have valid points or couldn’t improve the quality of the speech, but rather that I wanted it to simply communicate my thoughts and message. It was important to me to deliver a speech that was authentic, a speech that recognized both the faults and positive aspects of the education system. In the end, I wrote a speech I’m really proud of, and it got positive feedback from people at graduation.
Now that graduation is over, I’m sharing the speech here in case others want to read it :) I hope you had a wonderful start to your summer!
Valedictorian Speech by Amilia
Family, friends, administrators, and teachers, thank you for joining us today as we celebrate the end of one stage of life and the start of a new.
As I started thinking about what I wanted to say today and what it really meant to be the valedictorian, I read a speech given by a young woman for her valedictory address. This student, Erica Goldson*, spoke about the broken American education system and said that being valedictorian does not mean that you are “any more intelligent than [your] peers” but rather that you were simply the best at “working the system.” She asserted that the only thing students learn in school is how to memorize facts robotically and that students do not learn critical thinking skills or how to leave high school and face the outside world.
In many ways, I agree with her speech and feel that much of what she said applies to me. I am speaking here today partially because I worked very hard the past four years and made school a priority. But I am also at the top of my class because I chose classes just because they would boost my GPA, because I am good at rote memorization, and because I test well. I played the game and I succeeded. But I know that my GPA really doesn’t define me, or any of us, because class ranking does not reveal how hard a worker you are, how special you are, how smart you are, what your talents are, or what you believe in. I agree with Ms. Goldson that as students, we need to “use our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity,” and I hope that those of you who dream of becoming teachers will fight for these changes in our education system.
I know that many of you feel that you have had a similar experience to Ms. Goldson’s- that you haven’t truly learned anything the past four years and are now graduating feeling discouraged and disappointed. And to those of you who feel that way, I hope you go out into the world excited to learn and grow in a way that you weren’t able to in high school. But overall, my personal high school experience has been a positive one, and I have learned a tremendous amount because of the amazing, life-changing teachers I have been blessed to have the past four years.
Many of my teachers have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in my classmates and me, and the life lessons they taught me will remain long after I forget how to interpret standard error, whether inverted images are real or virtual, or what the difference is between Frederick the First and Frederick William the First. A physics teacher’s excitement over rocket launches and a statistics teacher’s love of math has taught me to always be energetic and passionate about what you do. Through his stories about attending Pearl Jam concerts around the country, an English teacher taught me the importance of pushing yourself outside your comfort zone in order to find out who you are and who you can be. My conversations with another English teacher taught me the importance of always questioning what it is that you believe. A history teacher’s story Fridays showed me the impact you can have by encouraging others and by always living out your life according to your faith. These teachers, and the many other talented, inspiring ones I have been lucky to have, have made a lasting impression on my life and are one of the reasons I am confident to leave high school and face the next stage of my life.
I have heard many people say negative things about our generation- that we are lazy or entitled. And while that may be true for some, in my experience I have not found a situation where a select few define the many. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for others in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.** This class is filled with some of the most talented, most brilliant, and hardest-working people I have ever met- students who have spent countless hours perfecting paintings, memorizing monologues, practicing sports, studying, and helping others. I know students who have worked part-time jobs, multiple part-time jobs, or full-time jobs to save for college or provide for their families, students who have spent the past years, or are spending this next year, doing mission work and helping others. This class of 2012 is incredible- I am thankful that I have been lucky enough to be friends with some of you, and wish I could have gotten to know many of you better. I have high hopes for this class as we go out into the world.
In these next few years, and for the rest of your lives, I hope you find something you believe in and can have faith in- a faith you don’t hold because your family or friends do, but because you’ve questioned and searched and come out with even stronger convictions.
I hope you leave your comfort zone and meet people who are different from you- people who are of different ethnicities, faiths, and orientations. I hope that they challenge you and any prejudices you may have held.
I hope you never reach a point in your life when you think that your best years are behind you- the best years of your life are always ahead of you if you’re hopeful and refuse to fall into complacency.
In a society focused on outer image and materialism, I hope you rebel against the culture and cultivate inner beauty.
I hope you keep your family and friends close. I know that I have only gotten through life because of my supportive and encouraging family. My step-dad taught me that your past doesn’t define your future, and my mom has taught me the true meaning of strength and love. My family consists of people who may or may not be blood-related to me, but who have all had a hand in raising me and for that I will be forever grateful.
And finally, I hope that you live with passion and joy- as though the world really is going to end on December 21st. Because, as I have learned from my photography class this year, you only live once. I hope that you always live a life that you’re proud of. Thank you.
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*Read Erica Goldson’s speech here
**1 Timothy 4:12