I’d like to begin by thanking Sr. Berchmans and the Visitation sisters for your continuous prayers and your steadfast modeling of a holy, faith-filled life for all of us. Ms. Blaine, Ms. Foreman, and Mrs. Grimaldi thank you for your constant love and care as we grew these past four years. Ms. Davenport - thank you for joining us on this special day and sharing your insights. Thank you to Mr. Kerns, whom we have the privilege of “graduating” with; we will always remember your kindness and service to the school. I would be remiss if I did not also thank all of the faculty, staff, family and friends who are gathered here today. Thank you so much for your unfailing support. It is because of you all that we have succeeded today. Lastly, I’d like to thank my fellow classmates, who have entrusted me with the honor of having the last remarks at graduation. I hope I live up to the hype.
“I don’t feel all that different.” This was my prevailing thought as I began writing this speech. Called upon to reflect on all that had transpired over the course of our time here, I was disturbed to discover that I felt as if I hadn’t changed much from freshman year to now. From the outside you may see physical differences; many of us are no longer the gangly, brace-faced freshman we once were. But inwardly, I feel mostly the same. This realization was disappointing, to say the least, particularly when I think back to 4 years ago at the end of my 8th grade year, holding onto this idea of what high school was like (based on my familiarity with Hannah Montana). Back then I knew, with absolute certainty, that once I got to high school I would become the person I wanted to be. How could it be that after all this time I still feel the same?
And so, like every person who has stumbled upon a realization they have no desire to accept, I searched for evidence to contradict it. Four years full of memories and moments to prove to myself that I had changed.
Throughout that first year on 35th street we experienced the thrill of trying new things coupled with the fear of failing at them, and at the same time, we eagerly anticipated the moment where we would become more self-assured, experienced, and confident.
Then came sophomore year, which for me, I admit, was a blur. We muddled through our second year at Visi feeling like a forgotten middle child, no longer cute and innocent freshmen, but not yet cool upperclassmen either. We yearned to be upperclassmen, people who seemed to have it all figured out.
Junior year was the rude-awakening. Upperclassmen do not have it all figured out. We experienced the same doubts in our abilities as we did during our freshman year, but now the specter of college loomed over us all, increasing the pressure tremendously. Thankfully we had our deep friendships with one other, strengthened by Junior Retreat, to center us in this time of anxiety and stress.
The lifestyle of the Second Semester Senior, or third trimester senior, was the biggest myth I have ever fallen for. The entirety of senior year, I waited for the moment where I could stop working, stop studying, and let out a big sigh of relief. It never came. I vividly remember stumbling into the lodge after one particularly tough weekend of projects, papers, and tests, and hearing someone shout incredulously, “It is literally April of our senior year and I think at least half the class just pulled an all-nighter.” Personally, I felt like an Apple product, programmed to last only for four years. Unfortunately, the shiny new “college” update wasn’t available until the fall, so until then, I had to work with an old, faulty, overused version of me that had sloth-like processing speeds and absolutely no remaining storage.
Senior year felt incredibly long, and at the same time passed in the blink of an eye. And along the way we all, at one point, thought: “all I have to do is get to college, and I’ll be set. All I have to do is get to college, and I will leave behind all the parts of myself that I dislike. All I have to do is get to college, and I will become the person I was always supposed to be.” It’s not too dissimilar from the way we once thought about high school. But then I thought back to a moment during the college application process when Ms. Blaine said to us, “Remember that you are worth more than what you are doing.” Humbly, I would like to add to that - you are also worth more than where you are going.
Every single moment of the last four years has not led up to this one. Let me repeat that. Every single moment of the last four years has not led up to this one. Every moment has simply led up to the next. To view it any other way is to take our entire high school experience: the mundane days, the ultimate highs and the desperate lows, the many firsts and lasts, and condense them all into a means that was solely to achieve the end that has snuck up on us today: graduation. I don't mean to say today is not important, because it is. Nor do I want to say that looking to the future is a bad thing - it isn’t. We must acknowledge where we want to go, but, more importantly, we need to accept who we are now, taking pride in all that we’ve accomplished so far, while also having enough humility to know that there is so much more to learn: not only in the classroom, but about ourselves. Rather than worrying about how we think we should be changing, take hold of every moment and give it value, even the most ordinary.
While different for everyone individually, our experiences here were much more than a race to the finish line, or a stepping stone on the path of education. We have four years full of memories and moments where we learned about each other and ourselves in the process.
I have learned so much about myself through meeting and befriending all of you, and for that experience I am eternally grateful. Unfortunately, even after four years, I am still a major procrastinator, still pretty disorganized, and despite the efforts of the best teachers ever, I am still a little bit afraid of math. But that is all ok - because I can also say with certainty, that we are women of compassion, empathy, acceptance, leadership, and friendship. My time here has taught me that change and self-growth are one in the same and they come through knowing myself better and accepting who I am rather than trying to become a different person. So maybe I haven’t changed, I’ve simply become more me. For that, I have my fellow classmates to thank, who accepted me in the first place.
Our journey through our education, and most importantly through life, is not necessarily to make ourselves better, but to know ourselves better: both our weaknesses and our talents, and to then help others discover them too. We must be humble enough and know that our talents come directly from God, and that God has also given others graces as well. How can we become who God intended us to be, which is to say the best version of ourselves? And how do we reconcile this definition with all that society tells us? It is a big question, one that is answered along the path of self-knowledge. Be open to embracing what all of your new experiences have to offer as we continue onto our next endeavors, maybe no longer, together, but never alone.
As we go our separate ways, wherever that may be, I urge you to strive to create lasting, positive change. Because although we may feel the same as we did four years ago, anxiously anticipating our freshman year at college as we once did at Visitation, we leave a legacy that will be built upon by every graduating year following ours. We have challenged each other to be better women, better leaders, and better friends simply by encouraging one another to accept ourselves as we are. It is the gift of a strong and loving community. We have been fortunate enough to experience that here for four years, and as we go on to college, we will have the confidence and the kindness to share that with others.