Wisdom of the young

EDUCATION. Here are some of the speeches given by valedictorians at recent local high school graduations.

| 02 Jul 2024 | 10:41

High Point Regional High School

By Nicole Damstra, valedictorian

Good evening everyone.

I am so incredibly grateful and honored to be up here tonight and share this accomplishment with the Class of 2024.

First, I would like to start by thanking the people who have gotten me and my fellow classmates to the place we are today. First and foremost, thank you to all of the parents, guardians, family and community members here tonight and all those who could not make it.

I’m sure you have heard it all before, but the truth is that none of us could have made it here tonight without your guidance and support. We appreciate you more than words can say, so sometimes those words are replaced with an eye roll, but what we really mean to tell you is “thank you.”

Of course, thank you to all of the staff, educators and coaches as well. Each and every one of you has dedicated your time and energy day in and day out to one day leave us with a strong foundation so that we can face the world and chase after our dreams. Well, pat yourselves on the back and take a breath because today is that day, and you have done a remarkable job.

Lastly, to the students, thank you for making my high school experience one that makes saying goodbye so tragic yet beautiful. As I look out at the sea of faces - some of which I have known since I was 5 years old, some of which I have grown closer within the past four years, and some of which I haven’t had the pleasure of getting to know as deeply as I would have wished - I am still truly awestruck with every single person.

It is no easy feat to make it to this night, especially with the onslaught of curveballs and conflicts and catastrophic world events that we have all witnessed in recent history.

But we are here, and we did it together.

The task I was given with this speech was to close out this portion of the ceremony. It seems like a daunting task, doesn’t it?

Trying to write a speech that would work as a one-size-fits-all conclusion for 187 incredibly unique and extraordinary pathways with just a few words.

I thought to myself, Who am I to share wisdom or insight? I am in the same bittersweet position as everyone else sitting here tonight. Stuck between nostalgia and readiness, fear and excitement. So instead I will share with you my hopes for our class.

To the Class of 2024:

Every single person you have met, decision you have made and challenge you have overcome has led you here tonight. I hope that you feel the joy and pride within this stadium, knowing that you are deserving of this celebration.

I know many of us have been itching for this night to come, counting down the weeks, days, hours, even minutes until we can say we are done with high school. Well, the wait is over. Here we are.

That night that seemed impossibly far away is upon us, and if there is only one thing that I have learned throughout the last four years - teachers cover your ears because it is not academic - it is to live in the moment. I know, easier said than done, but give it a try.

We have spent so much of the past year glaring into the future, trying to figure out what it looks like for each one of us, preparing ourselves for graduation and beyond. But right now, at this moment, maybe for one of the last times, we are all together.

So, while later tonight, I hope the joy you feel knowing that the countdown and assignments and stress is finally over is worth every thought, I also hope that right now you take a moment to look around you. Look to the people sitting next to you, in front of you, behind you, across from you.

Look into the stands and onto the hill. Look at all of the faces that form the community that has cheered us on for the past four years or maybe even our entire lives. Take a moment to soak it all in and forget the uncertainty of tomorrow.

However, the uncertainty of tomorrow is not something to fear. And guys, I am the valedictorian after all, so I can say I know a thing or two. But what I know for certain, more than anything else, is that your best days are still to come.

Of course, there will be discouraging and daunting days ahead. There will be days of uncertainty and sorrow, heartbreak and hardship and, yes, even failure. Especially failure. But we will do as the Class of 2024 has always done, and we will adapt. We will persevere. We will change course, and even if we have to get through a global pandemic to do it, we will reach our goals.

But when those intimidating days do eventually arise, when the world feels like it’s caving in and the sky is falling, I hope that you remember that we are still young. We are allowed to make mistakes. We are allowed to be uncertain, ask questions, change our minds, gain experience through trial and error, and discover our own identity as we continue to learn more about the world.

But just when you think you understand all there is to know about yourself and this world, I encourage you to keep digging. I encourage you to continue asking questions and feeding your curiosity. I encourage you to chase after every possible emotion and risk.

And along this journey that you create for yourself, I hope that you recognize the power you hold to impact the world.

As Jane Goodall said, “Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference can indeed change the world.”

Now, history was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I think what intrigued me the most about it was that the majority of history is still unwritten.

But each day, each one of you, no matter the path you plan to take, has the potential to use your voice to make a difference in the lives of those around you and make the changes you wish to see in the world.

I hope that that future version of yourself can look back to today and say that this version would be proud of your success - not based off of the accomplishments and money you gain but based off of the relationships and experiences you have acquired.

Similarly, I hope today that you can look back on younger versions of yourselves and know that they would be proud of the person walking across this stage today. Not because of your grades but because of the memories you made laughing at the lunch table, going to football games, decorating the hallways, bonding with classmates over terrible exams, curating the perfect pregame playlist with your teammates or simply smiling at friends you pass in the hallway.

And if anyone is leaving tonight with any regrets, the exciting news is: Tonight is the start of the rest of your life. It is a blank page, a clean slate, and only you have the power to control the rest of the story.

Many people here today probably expected me to end with a Taylor Swift quote, but to avoid all the groans and eye rolls, I will show some self-restraint. Instead, I will use the words from one of my favorite shows, “Gilmore Girls”: “We’re almost there and nowhere near it. All that matters is we’re going.”

My final hope is that wherever life takes you, you remember the place and people that first ignited your passions and nurtured your interests.

Remember that High Point will always be a home, and you will always be a Wildcat.

It has been my honor to be even just a footnote in your inevitably extraordinary, emotional, amusing and unforgettable stories. Thank you and congratulations Class of 2024!

Sparta High School

By Ashley Crane, valedictorian

I am the type of person who needs to have every single detail of my day planned and prepared. Of course, my first day going to high school was no exception to this.

The night before, I picked out my outfit, packed my bag and triple-checked to confirm that everything was ready to go. I woke up extra early the next morning to do my hair and makeup to make sure I looked presentable for the high school, a place I still couldn’t believe I was finally attending.

I waited at the bus stop for what seemed like ages until my bus rounded the corner, characteristically late for the first day. I bounded up the steps and sat down in the first open seat that I could find.

As the bus continued to drive through the route and more kids hopped aboard, I was confused. I didn’t recognize any of them. I was slightly alarmed, but my first-day-of-school nerves kept me preoccupied, and I didn’t question anything.

I gazed out the bus window, worrying about everything one could worry about on the first day of school. What if I get lost? Will my teachers be nice? How much homework are we going to get?

The bus turned onto Main Street and drove and drove and drove. I soon saw West Mountain in front of us ... annnnd the bus kept driving. Before I realized what was happening, I heard the repeated click, click, click of the blinker. And then we turned into the middle school. (Don’t ask me how it took this long to realize I had gotten on the wrong bus; I was only a freshman after all.)

Safe to say, my perfect first day at the high school was almost immediately shattered. In true Ashley fashion, I panicked. Luckily, despite my great fears at that moment, my first day of high school was not a total disaster. I got a ride to the correct school, found my way to first period and the only result was a tardy. (Actually my only tardy these past four years, but who’s counting?)

Throughout our lives, we all will face much greater setbacks than getting on the wrong bus. In fact, I’m sure all of us already have. Whether you got a bad grade on a test, didn’t make the sports team, missed out on your dream role in the play or faced personal battles - each and every one of us has been met with challenges that have put us in the wrong direction.

Moving forward, we will all continue to face difficulties that will appear impossible to overcome. In these moments, it is so easy to give up. It is so easy to stop trying. And it is so easy to accept defeat.

However, I am confident that every single one of us is capable of persevering. We should not view these setbacks as dead ends but as detours to set us on the right track. It is so important to remember that these obstructions are temporary and that maintaining a positive mindset will make overcoming them so much easier.

These challenges are a part of life, and we should choose to be defined not by the difficulties we’ve faced but by how we’ve chosen to deal with them. So far, it is clear that our class has done a phenomenal job overcoming any obstacles that we may have encountered as evidenced by all of our accomplishments.

Our sports teams have won countless games and championships, bringing home dozens of medals. Our school musicals have sold out the entire auditorium, impressing everyone with their incredible performances. Our marching band has worked tirelessly at all of our football games, and all of our music departments have put on amazing concerts. Our art students have created beautiful pieces, winning contests and decorating the halls. Our robotics teams have worked extremely hard to become among the top in the nation. Our clubs and honor societies have met throughout the year to learn new things, compete in various competitions and give back to the community.

Our entire grade has successfully navigated one of the most notorious hazards known to man (also known as the school parking lot). And, most importantly, all of us are here today graduating.

However, our class would not have become as successful as it is without the help of so many people around us. To begin, I would like to thank our administration for their leadership, organization and their dedication to Sparta High School.

I would also like to recognize all of the amazing teachers that we have had. They have not only helped us learn so much in their classes, but they have also helped us grow as individuals, teaching us so many valuable lessons that we will all keep with us long after we graduate.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge our families and friends for doing so much for all of us. From helping us with homework to driving us around before we got our licenses and encouraging us at our events, our families and friends have supported us through it all, never leaving our sides and helping us to achieve our goals.

While we have already accomplished so much throughout our time in high school, this is only the beginning. Everyone here is destined to do great things in the future. Whether you are planning to go on to college, trade school, the military, a new job or something else, after reflecting on everything we have done so far, success is certainly in store for each and every one of us.

By continuing to work hard, follow our dreams and believe in ourselves, anything is possible.

As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”

When I arrived at the middle school on my infamous first day, my seventh-grade science teacher Mr. Malakuskie greeted me as soon as I stepped off the bus. Upon spotting me, he first just started laughing.

Next, he jokingly said, “I guess you weren’t ready to graduate from middle school yet.”

Now, four long years later, we are all undoubtedly well-prepared to graduate from high school.

Congratulations Class of 2024, and best of luck on all of your future endeavors. Thank you.

Pope John XXIII Regional High School

By Anika Rodrigues, co-valedictorian

Bishop Sweeney; Fr. Barron, Vicar for Education; Ms. Mary Baier, Superintendent of Schools; Mr. John Bacsik, Associate Superintendent of Schools; Mr. John Oroho, President of the Academy Board, Administration, Faculty and Staff of Pope John XXIII Regional High School, parents and guests, and a very special greeting to the Lions, my fellow graduates.

I remember sitting in this very gymnasium three years ago for my brother’s high school graduation and thinking, “If I ever become valedictorian, thank goodness I won’t have to give a speech.”

So when a month ago, I was told that I would be giving a speech at graduation, I was kind of surprised. I had no idea what to make my speech about, but as other people found out I was writing a speech, they started giving me advice. “Make it interesting.” “Don’t make it boring.” “Don’t just make it a stereotypical graduation speech.”

But the best advice I received was from one teacher, “Just make it about physics.” So if you’d all open your textbooks to page one.

I’m just kidding. But as I brainstormed ideas for this speech, I realized I wasn’t as opposed to the idea of giving a speech as I was four years ago because I have grown into the person standing before you today, able to give this speech. And it’s not just me.

We have all grown from our awkward middle-school selves into the still awkward young adults preparing to go off to college.

The Lorax once said, “A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.”

During high school, each of us found a direction to lean in, whether we like that direction or not. Well, to be more accurate, we were each thrown on some path after experiencing the tornado of awkwardness, peer pressure and stress that is high school. Each experience we had, each choice we made and each person we met all pushed us in the direction we are now facing.

And through these four years, there have been a lot of people that supported us and pushed us onto that path. Every school day, we were surrounded by the classmates that helped us get through our hardest classes and supported us through the stress of college applications. Thank you for making high school an all-around more enjoyable experience.

Each year, we were introduced to new teachers that would spark our interests, sometimes helping us decide our future careers and other times helping us to decide which careers to rule out. Thank you for not just teaching us but also instilling in us the desire to learn more about each subject.

Of course, we can’t forget the parents that somehow put up with us, not only for these long four years, but also for the 14 years before that. Thank you for always supporting us and offering advice, even when we were too stubborn to listen. And through it all, whether we knew it or not, we had God guiding us in each step we took throughout our years at Pope John.

At the start of freshman year, we all thought we’d made it. We’d finally entered high school, the last school we’d attend before becoming adults. We thought we’d found our boxes and figured out who we were.

I was pretty quiet, and I had pretty good grades, so that’s who I thought I was. I was someone who would rather be at home reading a book than giving a speech to my entire grade and all of their relatives.

Some kids were social butterflies. Others were artistic or athletic. We all had our directions, and I figured that’s where we’d fall.

But then we all went through high school. And it became kinda difficult to remain in just one box. For me, it was difficult to continue being quiet in robotics, especially when it was my turn to speak during our judging presentation.

And the good grades started to take a little more work and a little more extra help when classes like physics and calculus were thrown into the mix. Each experience was like a strong gust of wind, pushing us further away from our “boxes” and further in our own, unique direction.

We thought high school was about fitting into whatever role we’d found for ourselves. But high school is about finding your own path and stepping out of the box that middle school often puts you in. Each of us made our own choices throughout high school, from easy choices like what clothes to wear or clubs to join to more difficult choices like what major to pick or college to select. And each of those choices pushed us in our own direction.

Now that we’ve finished high school and officially become adults, many of us have started to feel once again that we’ve made it. Most of us have turned 18 or will soon turn 18, meaning we can now legally do things like vote, go skydiving, apply for a Costco card, purchase fireworks and many more fun things I’m sure our parents are very excited about.

And to be fair, doesn’t it mean something that our government trusts us this much now? It feels as though these four long years were leading up to the grand finale of adulthood.

But just because we’ve completed one stage of our lives doesn’t mean that we’re done growing or that our personalities are set in stone. During the next few years of our lives, we will again choose a direction to tilt in, whether that choice is determined by a small breeze or a giant tornado.

Some of us have already found our direction through our high school experiences, and the coming years will only help us grow in the direction we chose. For others, the next few years will serve as an introduction to an entirely new direction and maybe even cause a big change in trajectory.

Sure, trees fall the way they lean. But whether we fall in the next few years or when we’re grown up and starting families or even when we’re 90 years old in some retirement home is entirely up to us. In order to overcome obstacles, we have to be willing to bend a little.

I was able to come up on this stage and deliver this speech because I was willing to adapt and learn from my experiences at Pope John. None of us have fallen over yet because high school was only the beginning; each experience we go through will change us and set us onto a new path.

Throughout our lives, we will each go through our own storms and most likely be thrown in a million different directions. But as we go through the obstacles life throws at us, if we remember the faith that we have developed through our years at Pope John and we remain willing to lean into any challenges, we will eventually find the direction that works best for us.

Good luck to my fellow graduates and God bless all of you. Thank you.

By Alison Mazich, co-valedictorian

Bishop Sweeney; Fr. Barron, Vicar for Education; Ms. Mary Baier, Superintendent of Schools; Mr. John Bacsik, Associate Superintendent of Schools; Mr. John Oroho, President of the Academy Board, Administration, Faculty and Staff of Pope John XXIII High School, parents and guests, and a very special greeting to the Lions, my fellow graduates.

Seniors, when was the last time you found yourself saying, “I can’t wait until I graduate” or “I can’t wait until I’m in college.”

Now, parents, think of times when you have said, “I can’t wait until I retire.”

Fixtures in our everyday language, these phrases exemplify our tendency to hyperfocus on the future rather than live in the moment. From our earliest memories we have looked forward, anticipating the next big event. In kindergarten we couldn’t wait until we could join the older kids in recess and on the playground. As we grew up, the thrill of owning and personalizing lockers became an appealing prospect.

We eagerly anticipated events like the annual field day and our class field trips. The day we could walk through the halls of this very building couldn’t come soon enough. And as we gather here for graduation, it’s evident that many of us seniors have been eagerly counting down the days, months and years for this very moment. Each morning marked another day closer, as we diligently crossed off dates on our calendars.

But in our relentless pursuit of what lies ahead, we often overlook the beauty and significance of the present moment, allowing life to pass us by.

For the past four years, we have been consumed by the hustle and bustle of high school life. From navigating friendships to tackling academic challenges, we’ve been in a constant state of preparation for what lies ahead.

But in our eagerness to reach the next chapter, we often forget to fully embrace the present moment. In our tendency to narrowmindedly focus on the future, we might have overlooked the simple pleasures woven into our daily routines.

Each morning as we make our way into the building, we are greeted good morning by Mr. Maguire and Mr. Emering. During every advisory, we find ourselves engrossed in conversation, laughter or the occasional gossip with our closest friends. And after school, the campus’s various athletic fields buzz with the camaraderie of teammates bonding over the pains and pleasures of high school sports. These are not moments that are marked on a calendar or can be crossed off a list, they are the small joys that give meaning to everyday life.

I think we can all admit that it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of anticipation, always looking ahead to what’s next. However we must remember to pause, to take a breath, and to appreciate the beauty of the here and now.

Look at where we are. Here we all are in our caps and gowns. We all sit beside our fellow classmates and friends that have stuck by us for the past few years. Parents and families watching us with immense pride and enthusiastic excitement.

Pause for a moment, glance to your right, glance to your left, take it all in, because we have finally done it. This is what we have been anticipating for the past four years. And while today may have been a date circled on your calendar, it’s not merely an item to check off. Embrace the present moment.

So, my fellow graduates, as we stand on the brink of a new beginning, let us not forget to savor the moments we are living right now. Let us cherish the friendships we’ve forged, the lessons we’ve learned and the experiences that have shaped us into the individuals we are today.

Let us not allow our lives to be defined solely by our aspirations for the future, but rather by the richness of the present moment. While our focus is on the next major milestone of beginning college, I encourage you to spend these next two months appreciating the overlooked moments in your daily lives and to truly embrace living in the moment.

Instead of obsessing over getting each item on your dorm shopping list or stressing about the struggles of college life, enjoy the family dinners, join your grandparents for Sunday Mass, and treasure laughter and conversation with friends.

May Ferris Bueller’s words continue to remind us: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

So as we embark on the journey that lies ahead, both in college and beyond, let us carry with us the wisdom to live fully in the present, to embrace each day with gratitude and enthusiasm, and to never lose sight of the beauty that surrounds us.

For in the end, it is not the destination that matters most, but the journey itself: the people, the places, the emotions and the experiences.

Congratulations, Class of 2024! Here’s to embracing the present and making the most of every moment.

West Milford High School

By Ava Murphy, valedictorian

Good evening, fellow graduates. Today we celebrate the culmination of all of our hard work, and I am proud of every one of us for this momentous achievement.

Before I continue, I would like to extend the utmost gratitude on the behalf of the Class of 2024 to each administrator, educator, staff member, family member and friend who has helped us reach this point. None of us would be here today without your dedication and support, and our achievements are as much yours as they are our own.

In the time leading up to this day, I would imagine many of us have thought often about success, between the successes we hoped to achieve this year and the success we hope to find in our future endeavors.

Today, many of us mark our current successes with the cords and stoles that hang around our necks or with the names of universities we plan to attend adorning the tops of our caps. Simply being here today, wearing these caps and gowns, is itself a great success.

When we entered this school, it was through Google Meets joined from the confines of our homes, and many of us lacked motivation, enthusiasm and, most of all, human connection. Back then, I would have told you that it is, in fact, by one’s cords and stoles on their graduation day that you could determine one’s success.

Today, however, I realize I had been wrong. I now mark my success by the relationships I have forged these past years. The friends we have known since kindergarten and even earlier with whom we are still close today; the friends we have made in shared classes; and the friends we made by being part of sports teams, performing and visual arts programs, and after-school clubs.

The teachers of primary academic subjects; the teachers of electives and physical education classes; and the guidance counselors, coaches, band directors and club supervisors. It is connections with these people that will impact us for much longer than any certificates or trophies we may have earned. Our bonds with these people are the truest measures of our success as human beings.

In fact, I believe it is these relationships with friends and mentors that have lent themselves to the successes we have found in classrooms and extracurriculars the past few years.

I can say with confidence that I would not be standing before you all today if it was not for the support of the people around me. My teachers and band directors have taught me so many skills and helped me grow so much as a student and person.

My family has supported me unconditionally in every endeavor I have pursued, and my friends have made me enjoy coming to school every day and have studied with me and worked with me on so many group projects.

I have to shout out our salutatorian, Colin, who I am proud to call one of my friends. Whether it was working together on chemistry and physics labs, proofreading each others’ English essays, or practicing saxophone together, our friendship is a testament to how having connections with others can often aid one in achieving success.

We may never again sit in the same classrooms, play together on the same sports teams or sit at the same lunch table, but we do all share this common experience as students at West Milford High School.

We exit this school with fragments of the people we have known, that come together to form the mosaic of who we are. Maybe your favorite song or movie is one that a friend recommended for you; maybe you joined a club or sport because of a friend and developed a passion for that activity; maybe you keep a list in your Notes app of funny quotes that a friend or teacher has said.

Our shared history becomes part of who we are as people, and we would all do well to appreciate the connections we have made with others. Congratulations again, Class of 2024! Thank you.