CCA Class of 2020 Graduation Speech

 In Anxiety and Stress, Compassion, High School, High School Exams and Tests, Promoting Tolerance, Student Rights

On June 10, 2021, my former high school, Canyon Crest Academy, held a traditional graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 since we were unable to gather last year in the wake of the pandemic. I spoke at the ceremony this past Thursday, and wanted to share the speech on my blog as it holds valuable messages for kids, students, parents, adults, and communities as a whole, especially during these pivotal times. The speech is below:

 

Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, family members, fellow students, staff, administrators, & teachers:

We are finally here– united, smiling, alive, breathing! This year has indeed reminded us of how invaluable our health and human connection truly are. How invaluable it is to have a person seated next to you–that is–with six feet in between. For now. 

We never expected to value these basic elements of human life. For so long, we have measured “value” on the yardstick of achievements. Yes–numbers–grades, test scores, the rank of your college, and with age, money. It’s about time that, in such a high-achieving and demand-driven world, the connotation of the word “value” shifts. In a community that strives to achieve their expected “value,” we are constantly graduating beyond our level to the degree that basic human qualities are taken for granted. They go unnoticed as mere breaths of air. 

Now, as these breaths of air remind us how fortunate we are to be here, I want to remind you of the significance packaged with graduating at this pivotal time:

2020, we are the class of vision: no– not just vision– but perfect, 2020 vision. How fitting. 

We are living witness to an era ravaged by social and public health crises, where COVID-19 forced a ubiquitous reset. 2020 seemed like the perfect year– the pinnacle of our high school careers, a culmination of all our academic and extracurricular achievements. No one expected our daily lives to be transformed so radically. No one expected this “new normal.”

This class will not go down as the unfortunate. We may have missed out on the last portion of our senior year, but we gained time to mature and grow. Isn’t this what it means to graduate? Forging ahead in face of adversity. A right of passage to realize personal responsibility. 

Our diplomas have been burdened with such incredible weight, their holders fully exposed to the stark realities of our world: we now see clearly. Think about it. Our clear vision of the world has summoned us to seize this moment as leaders. To seize the reins of revolution and ride along the path we’ve pioneered. 

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I was raised on the Jewish tenet of Tikkun Olam, or “repairing the world for the collective good.” Since childhood, I’ve dreamed of combating the indifference and injustice that plagues our planet. My profound study of history has taught me that revolutionary change is the hardest to foster, and my adventures through adolescence have made me realize why: we keep trying to fit a system founded on expectations. 

To implement REAL change, we must follow the advice of the acclaimed entrepreneur Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO. He tells us, “don’t do things the way they’ve always been done. Don’t try to fit the system. If you do what’s expected of you, you’ll never accomplish more than others expect.”

In today’s society we equate success to value. Success however, is not an objective measure, but a personal perception objectified by external expectations. Success and achievement DO NOT denote personal value. My high school experience led me to understand that value stems from culture and character, from passion and from purpose. 

When I’d sink into the chilling waters of self-defeat and anxiety, my mother would always preach that liberation comes only when I free myself from the expectations of others. I was blind then– now, my eyes are wide open. Become aware of your surroundings, see where you stand, and fit YOUR system. Not anybody else’s.

2020, we certainly don’t fit the norm: our class didn’t graduate as expected, but we graduated with more weight than any other. Today, we graduate with broadened perspectives which endow us with a strength balanced by gallantry and by grace. We transition into this next chapter of our lives with impeccable, 2020 vision. So let’s use that vision. Let’s veer off the path of the expected to accomplish more than the world expects of us. 

 

Thank you.

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