The following speech, provided by Medfield High School, was written by Olivia Gotham and given at Medfield High School graduation on June 8, 2014.
When I was 12, I wholeheartedly believed that one day, colleges would view my middle school grades. “This one got a B in seventh grade pre-algebra,” the Dean of Admissions would remark as he observed my Blake Middle School report card. “How’d she do in sixth grade social studies?”
At 12 years old, college was nothing more than a concept for me, a place I would go when I was much older, but it was a powerful concept indeed – one that demanded my fullest effort. At 12 years old, I considered middle school and high school a vehicle that would ultimately drive me right to college (not that I could even name a single college at the time) and a career. I had been taught to look ahead.
Most of us, I think, have been taught to look ahead; it’s the culture we live in now. We pass the present by waiting for the future, whether we’re anticipating the prom, a sports game, summer, or life after high school. With all the emphasis on tomorrow, it’s easy to discount today. I’ve spoken with many students who consider high school nothing but preparation for college or a job, an institution that would completely lose its meaning without the promise of higher education or a paycheck behind it. To be honest, on a late night with heavy homework, I’ve bought into the idea myself. Today, though, at graduation, the diving board from which we will spring into the rest of our lives, whether that includes a career, college, or service, I want to refute that idea. High school has been more than just preparation for college or a career. Think back on it for a minute. Yes, we learned how to write, how to beat a standardized test, and how to compile a resume, but that wasn’t the whole of our experience. In fact, we learned plenty of lessons that won’t just help us succeed in the college or career of our choice, but will help us succeed anywhere. Class of 2014, let’s think back.
We figured out how to learn from our mistakes, so as not to make them a second time. For some of us, this lesson came through the ill-advised purchase of a fan bus freshman year, but for others, it came after saving our entire LARP for the night before its due date, or after attempting to buy lunch without a student ID. After first experiencing the trauma of each of these mistakes, we knew not to make them again (although I will admit, this is far more applicable to the fan bus scenario than to remembering our student IDs).
We’ve learned how to compromise. Sometimes this was difficult, but after much debate, the Class of 2014 was, in fact, able to decide on a senior skip day, and every spirit week the girls eventually agreed on a T-shirt design. With so many personalities and so much enthusiasm for all that we do, compromise can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge we’ll be facing for the rest of our lives, wherever they make take us. Now that we’ve learned to overcome it, our relations with others will be forever improved.
We’ve learned how to fight for our beliefs, most greatly evidenced through our overwhelming outrage when we began our senior year only to find that the school cookies had been replaced with some sort of healthier substitute. A few long weeks later, however, those gorgeous, slightly-undercooked originals were back where they belonged. Was it our doing? Who knows? But I like to think that our passion had something to do with their return. No matter the issue, though, whether it was an essay grade we disagreed with, a debate club topic, or the sophomore year panicked rumors of a stricter dress code, we developed a voice. We spoke up against outrages, and spoke up for our own opinions. High school won’t be the last time we find ourselves in passionate disagreement – we’ll need to respectfully but forcefully communicate our beliefs for the rest of our lives.
We’ve learned how to deal with embarrassment. In fact, I feel confident that few groups experience more embarrassment that high school students, as evidenced by our blatant overuse of the word “awkward.” High school was awkward and embarrassing at times, though, whether you lost a student government election, gave an egregiously wrong answer in class, or tripped down the main staircase. During my own career at MHS, I’ve accomplished all of the above, but I’m proud to say I’ve come out alive. In fact, I’ve learned, and I think many of you have, too, that those embarrassing moments aren’t all that momentous in the long run. Maybe we can look back on them later and smile, or maybe we just accept that a little embarrassment in high school won’t define the rest of our lives.
We’ve learned to work hard, whether in a drama production, in a concert, on a sports team, or in academics. No matter the format, we know that dedication and effort yield results, as evidenced by our fantastic musicals, sports championships, and (everyone’s pride) our stellar MCAS reputation. Furthermore, we’ve learned that when we find a passion, we don’t mind sacrificing our time and energy to improve. I am confident that there will never be a time in our lives, no matter what path we choose after high school, when hard work will not be necessary, and when hard work will not help us succeed.
Class of 2014, I’ve enjoyed my four years with you at MHS immensely, and not just because they’ve prepared me for the next step. Will our lessons help us to succeed in college or the workplace? I’m confident that they will. But our hard-earned skill sets won’t cease to be useful after retirement, or after the next set of four-year schooling comes to a close. Instead, we’ll carry the experiences with us through the great beyond of adulthood, where they will aid us in developing relations with friends, coworkers, and family members, and in contributing to our global community. Maybe at some point during your own four years at MHS, you, like me, looked forward instead of savoring the present and wished that the future would just hurry up and come. But I hope you don’t forget the lessons you learned along the way, whether you recognized them at the time or not, because I think their benefits are far greater than making the Dean’s List in college or receiving a promotion. I think the benefits speak for themselves through the high quality of people that I graduate with today.
Thank you everyone, and congratulations.