Tonight was the Academic Banquet at the high school where I was asked to be the keynote speaker. Instead of writing a whole lot, I will just let you read my speech. Sorry for the punctuation/grammar mistakes...in true high school fashion I waited till the last minute to write it.
I miss this girl every day.
Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Mrs. Chirpich. It really is such an honor for me to be here this evening. I know that my former teachers will agree, but it really does feel like it was just yesterday that I was sitting in your place and now here I am speaking. I know that I have said this time and time again, but Center has made me the academic that I am and I am ever-thankful to those teachers who helped to shape me and send me on my way. Center really is a special place and you may never find another one like it. But they are always here to welcome you back. Center teachers and staff, they care about you. You may not always realize it, but they do. They take a genuine interest in you and invest in you. Just the other day I was talking with Mrs. Chirpich and she remembered that when I was applying to MSA I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon because of a surgery that I had had when I was younger. She has had hundreds and hundreds of students come through her doors and yet she can still remember that about me---that is special. Center pushes you in a way that you don’t even know that you are being pushed. It may not be tonight when you realize this, but one day when you’re a college freshman sitting in a civics class with all juniors and you are the only one who can argue all 27 amendments, you'll know it was because Mrs. Heide made you fold all those darm index cards with rhyming words and stick figures and forced you to learn them, she did that because she cares. One day, you'll understand that they see the world in you, even if you don’t see it in yourself. So thank you.
First of all, I want to congratulate you all on this accomplishment. Parents, family and supporters, you must really give yourselves a hand and students we owe those people behind us a huge applause, because from personal experience I know that you would not be where you are without them. Parents, tonight is a night for you to be proud of all the work that is being done and excited for the future that your student is destined for.
This evening is about something very, very special and what better honor than to have reached academic excellence. When you have a group like this, you have students who are so used to getting good grades and it gets to the point where you don't even know you're working hard anymore. Please do take a moment to realize how special you are, only one out of every ten students will be here this evening. So not everyone gets to be here and you deserve to celebrate this occasion.
Freshman, this is the beginning and your first medal. You have only started to realize the type of work it takes to get where you are. Please, don't lose sight of your goals and maintain that motivation. If you teach yourself now, it will make it so much easier on yourself later on---trust me.
To my seniors, you've made it. As you find yourself on the brink of that next big step, humble yourself with these honors and well-wishes. You get to graduate with distinction and have proven yourself time and time again. Enjoy these last few weeks. High school is such a magical time and one day you will reflect on all these lessons and it will all make sense. When you go on to college and the workforce remember times like tonight. Because 4 years from now you'll learn things like: McDonald's is not real food, doing your laundry at home is truly a luxury and that there really is no place like home.
I want to take a moment to recognize those upperclassmen that are getting their first medal tonight. To you I say special congratulations. You have had to really work to make a conscious effort to push yourselves into this top 10%. That says a lot about your work ethic, your character and most of all, it says a lot about your potential. This friends, is a feat in and of itself. And I say to each and every one of you, I am so proud of you for that. Those are the kinds of things that can carry you in a lifetime.
So when I was thinking about what I would talk about tonight I reflected on all the realizations and aha-moments I've had about high school. The biggest lesson I had from high school happened my sophomore year of college. It came from a very dear friend. Tamra Simmerson was the epitome of a perfectionist. Everything from the way she took her notes, tied her shoes even to her perfectly gelled ponytail that nobody was allowed to touch. She is still the only person I've known to carry a three-hole punch in her back pack "just in case" she needed it. I always knew that at 730 am on the dot she would be in Ms. Dawson's room getting help on the Pre-cal homework from the night before. Tamra made me her biggest competition and was always asking me what my grade was. She cared so much and I was constantly telling her "Tamra, why does it matter that much??" She was one of my best friends and graduated exactly one rank ahead of me.
Thanksgiving break, sophomore year of undergrad was the first break we didn't get to meet up. That Sunday I was on my way to church, like every Sunday that I was home and I saw a horrible accident with a black neon as we were passing the Chiefs stadium. That evening I got a call that Tamra had been in a wreck. It was the same one I had seen that afternoon. But I was a person of great faith, I prayed and went to bed knowing everything was going to be just fine. In fact, I was humored at how mad she was going to be that the doctors touched her hair. The following day, Mr. Chambers and I made our way to the hospital reminiscing on some fun times we had had with Tamra.
However, everything changed the moment I stepped off of that elevator. Mrs. Heide walked up to us and asked me if we heard and then she said something I never thought I would hear "They're pulling Tamra off life support today". It was a whirlwind for the next few minutes, hours, days, even months for me. My entire life when something had gone wrong I prayed and it always got better. Because Tamra died, I felt guilt, as though I had done something wrong. I never lost my faith in God, but what I struggled, what I do struggle with is my faith in myself. Somewhere along the way, I just forgot what it was to believe in myself and I had lost that belief that I could achieve anything that I wanted.
I made it through college putting on such a good front, but now without the distraction of academics I am forced to face it all. I've postponed law school and pushed off all those things I once thought I would do.
That was up until a few weeks ago when I had a dream. In the dream I walk into Ms. Dawson's room and Tamra is sitting there, in her special seat that she always sat in working on a problem. I looked at her and I say "What are you doing here?" And she looked at me and said just like I would imagine her saying "What are you doing there? I've got to keep going, I know this is hard…but I'm not giving up” and then I woke up. That was it. That was all there was to it. I had my answer. Tamra was always herself, stubborn and honest. And now I can see why she tried so hard---it was because she had no fear of the consequences of failing, only hopes of excellence. Tamra never stopped competing against me, she even tried to speak Spanish better than me and I know she would want me to keep going as if we were still trying for that top spot.
I say this with the utmost sincerity and appreciation; it has been so great for me to be around you students. Center is that special place for me, ever true. You have reminded me so much of why I push and worked hard. Your happy, perseverant faces have reminded me of what it's like to believe in myself again. You are a special group of students and I hope that never lose sight of your potential. I have now made the decision that I am moving to Cleveland in August to work with inner-city schools and will be applying for a Fulbright fellowship to research in Morocco the politics of memory and the new generation of youth. I know that I am fully capable of anything I set my mind to. I just needed a little help remembering.
I want you all to remember that things will happen, but that life goes on. You must never forget to applaud yourself and to believe in all the things that you can do. You can go your whole life with everyone or no one believing that you can achieve some sort of greatness, but what counts the most if you believe in yourself. No matter what happens you are the only one who can live your life. Your teachers will push you now, but never be afraid or embarrassed to push yourself. Even if you get rejected, you'll never know if you don't try.
My freshman year of high school, Mr. Hanch said a quote that has stuck with me all these years he said E.E. Cummings wrote that "it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are". At 14 I never really thought about it, but at 22 I see what exactly what he means. I was afraid, because without realizing who you are, happiness can't find you. Never let anyone force you to think you have to have your life planned out at 18, because that's just impossible. All anyone can ever expect from you and all you can ever really expect from yourself is for you to grow into the person that you are supposed to be. Every one of you has a path and you can only take it one step at a time. Don't let yourself be overwhelmed with thoughts of things you can't control, because worrying and two dollars, is only gonna get you two dollars and high blood pressure. You have to have wisdom in your actions and faith in your merits and remember that truth is everlasting. Delight the world with your compassion, kindness and grace, because the beauty of life is to experience your true self.