This is not a normal high school graduation, so I’m not going to try and give a normal graduation speech.
Instead, let me start with a story about how in the spring of junior year, I got into a car accident on 280. I was driving to my AP exam on a rainy morning when my car hydroplaned and slammed into the center divider before starting to spin. When I felt myself come to a stop, I punched the inflated airbag down to see a Range Rover speeding directly towards me.
I remember knowing, with the utmost conviction, that I was going to die. I didn’t, clearly, and aside from the burns on my knuckles left by the airbag, I was fine. My parents arrived, and while my dad dealt with having my wrecked car moved off the middle of the highway, I demanded that my mom drive me to the test.
Once my shock wore off, which was well after AP Comparative Government was over, I was left wondering:
What is the point of studying for a test if there’s a real possibility that I die on the way there?
I’ve found myself asking an amended version of that question in the months since in-person school closed. Some of us seniors feel we continually prioritized academics for the past three-and-a-half years in the hope that we’d be able to celebrate our hard work with friends this semester. There’s no point in tiptoeing around it — I certainly can admit to, at times, having viewed high school as an ordeal and second semester senior year as the reward. When I found myself overwhelmed by my workload, I’d take comfort in the thought that I’d eventually be able to rejoice with the people around me, instead of sitting silently across from each other as we work in the WRC, only looking up to ask each other for clarification on an assignment or a peer-edit on an essay.
Shelter-in-place has made the celebrations we’d been looking forward to impossible altogether. We didn’t get to have our 12th grade trips; prom was cancelled; we didn’t get to share precious evenings around a campfire on a gradewide senior retreat. We didn’t get to cheer at our athletes' games and meets; and we’re not quite having the graduation ceremony that we all envisioned.
As much time, though, as I’ve spent grieving those milestones, I’ve spent thinking about the littlest details of our daily school lives that I’ve been missing the most in the past months. I miss the hallway conversations that would make me late to class. I miss sitting at the tables outside the cafe and letting the sun warm my face. I miss giggling in amazement at the discussions I’ve overheard in passing, about everything from Marxism to urban gardening. I miss the sawing noises coming from the iLab, the Science Thursday announcements over the PA system, and the steel drum music that floats down the hallway by 175C.
It’s been easy to feel a sense of regret about the little sacrifices we’ve made over the past three-and-a-half years—spending less time on extracurriculars, saying “no” to plans with friends, or even just choosing to work through a lunch period instead of socializing. We made those decisions with the promise of more time this semester. I find myself wondering—what would I have done differently had I known that high school as we knew it was going to end on March 12th?
I know I would’ve spent time with friends at lunch instead of trying to get in that extra work; I would’ve made sure I visited every classroom in every building; I would’ve met more with teachers, even if that just meant stopping them during a passing period. I would’ve spent that extra time researching for a paper that I found myself caught up in, even if it meant losing some study time for another class. I would’ve gone to every concert, every coffeehouse, and every athletic event, even if I had to get on a van to get there.
Those moments spent with my friends, classmates and teachers are the memories that stand out to me now, and I can’t help but wish I had more of them.
It’s also not lost on me that I crashed my car on the way to an AP exam, a test designed for a course that Nueva doesn’t even offer. We’re incredibly lucky to attend a school that prioritizes intellectual curiosity over external measures of success. Our school tells us to take classes that inspire us, and our teachers genuinely care about our progress and growth instead of asking us to check boxes. Unfortunately, even though our immediate educational environment tells us to learn for learning’s sake, we can’t pretend to be perfectly insulated from the broader culture around us. It’s an immeasurable blessing that Nueva kids don’t view each other as adversaries—we embrace collaboration, and we’re always offering each other help. Though we don’t compete against each other, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that we have to compete against the rest of the world, especially when we know explicit comparisons are happening in college admissions offices. We’re lucky to be free from GPAs, class rank, and from busy work in general, but the pressure to “succeed” is nevertheless all around us.
Our task, as the class of 2020, is to find a balance between investing in our futures and accounting for the possibility that they might not happen the way we’d hoped. We must not abandon our long-term goals entirely, but we should absolutely ensure that the majority of our time on a day-to-day basis is spent on things that have inherent value to each of us. We can’t “live every day like it’s our last”, but we should do our best to live each day as though there’s a non-zero probability that the next day won’t come. I, for one, know that I’m going to make an effort to stop looking at things that bring me joy and saying “later.” It has become clear that “later” is not guaranteed.
If we’d concluded our high school experience in a more conventional way, I think I’d have wanted to spend this speech talking about the ways in which we’ve grown over the past four years. We’re a Mighty 92 full of compassion.
We are skilled thinkers, writers, artists, mathematicians, engineers, scientists, musicians, athletes and beyond. We’re deliberate in our ambition—we’re all striving to improve the world in our own way.
I’d declare that we’re leaving high school ready for the “real world,” and that we owe that readiness to our spectacular teachers, who have pushed us to become better, more thoughtful people just as much as they’ve shaped our abilities as scholars. I’d proudly state that we’re on our way to being “grown-ups,” thanks to our parents, as well as all the aunties and uncles who have led us by example.
All of that is still very true. Yet we’re concluding high school in a bizarre and unprecedented manner—and that’s why I want to remind all of us that having the desire to change the world doesn’t need to stop us from enjoying all that it has to offer.
It is important to me that we take the time to honor the Black children that were murdered by police before they arrived at the momentous occasion we’re celebrating today. They didn’t get to have their names read at their high school graduations, so I’m going to spend a minute reading some of their names and ages at ours.
Aries Clark, sixteen
Quanice Derrick Hayes, seventeen
Tyre King, thirteen
Antwon Rose, seventeen
Robert Dentmond, sixteen
Jalon Johnson, seventeen
Kwame Jones, seventeen
Najier Salaam, eighteen
Shane Whitehead, sixteen
Isaiah Lewis, seventeen
Jordan Edwards, fifteen
Laquan McDonald, seventeen
David Joseph, seventeen
Michael Jerome Taylor, seventeen
D’ettrick Griffin, eighteen
Trayvon Martin, seventeen
George Richards-Meyers, eighteen
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, seven. Aiyana was born on July 20, 2002 — she would’ve been a senior this year.
Tamir Rice, twelve. He was born on July 25, 2002. Tamir should have been graduating with us.
And Michael Brown, eighteen, who was murdered eight days after his high school graduation.
Black lives matter.