Graduating from Uncertainty


Friends, I am filled with both great joy and disappointment to speak before you today. I am excited and enthralled for the diverse and enchanting future ahead of us, but I am disappointed that we close this chapter of our lives called High School on our phones and computers. This, I know, is not what we expected our graduation to be like.

But my fellow graduates of the Class of 2020, we are very special in that way. All of our lives have not been as we expected.

Many of us were born in the aftermath of the 9/11 Terrorist attack, no one expected that. When we entered High School, our district swept local newspaper headlines under the rug and misleadingly explained how administrators and guidance counselors had been charged with fraud, and when we walked into sophomore year there was a totally different scheduled than what we were told it would be.

We are familiar with uncertainty.

And now, at the closing of this turbulent chapter, our world is on pause with COVID-19. No one expected this to happen. Senior year is the climax, the highlight of the chapter in our lives called High School, yet the pages have stopped. Many of us are confused, upset, frustrated and anxious.

But friends, I am not worried. I believe in each of us to remain strong and fight with resilience. Cliché, I know, but I say that genuinely because we know uncertainty. We lived through it and made it out!

As I look forward to the chapter ahead of us, I am reminded of our freshmen year. Back then, many of us were confused, upset, frustrated and anxious, just as we are now.

While uncertainty and blank pages are baffling and scary, they give us room to be leaders, to be the authors of our own story.”

While uncertainty and blank pages are baffling and scary, they give us room to be leaders, to be the authors of our own story.

As many of us head out to become future leaders, I want to share a lesson I learned because a lesson learned is a lesson worth sharing.

Over the last four years, the Student Council has seen immense growth. Not only did we break fundraising records and hold the first Winter Formal in the gym with out-of-district guests, but we made tremendous strides to become the voice of the student body.

We now have a well-established relationship with the administration, and we proposed to have two Student Representatives sit on the Englewood Board of Education, something the Board finally approved last month.

Through this process of growth and on-campus activism, I realized true leadership and activism are only made possible by empathy and understanding.

During 10th grade, I was angry and frustrated that adults in power in our district did not care about us, the students. I remember going to my first Board meeting to just yell and complain at their lack of communication and care. I thought I was a hero.

Looking back, that achieved little to nothing, and frankly I was wrong. I was wrong to assume that the Board members didn’t care, I was wrong to think that my yelling would help them understand the students’ frustration and pain.

Later, I learned that the natural human instinct when under attack or stress, is to put up our guard, to argue back, and to deflect criticism. Our brain naturally initiates a fight-or-flight response. This, in the world of leadership and activism, is counter-productive and self-defeating. I saw this first-hand, the Board became defensive and unwilling to listen to me or the student voice. We could not make progress until our guards were down and we were willing to listen to one another.

For our community and nation to move forward, we need to have productive conversations with empathy and an open-mind.

Friends, after this day, we move on to fill out the blank pages of our lives. Despite the uncertainty, I have full confidence that our class, the Class of 2020, will remain strong and resilient as the authors of our own lives and leaders of tomorrow. As we march on in the world, I ask that each of us remember to listen more than we speak.

Atticus Finch, my favorite fictional character from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, said, “You never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I ask that we strive for a world of understanding and empathy. If we witness ignorance, let us not shun and ignore the people for their ignorance, but help them understand and see what they had failed to see before. Growth takes pain, it’s uncomfortable. Let’s “be comfortable being uncomfortable” and grow so that we don’t tear each other down, but build each other up. Let’s not antagonize and divide, but empathize and unify.

Thank you all for your time, and congratulations to Class of 2020!!