Gilman Class of 2011 Valedictory Speech

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Mr. McBride, Mr. Schmick, Ms. Turner, faculty, family, friends and distinguished classmates, T.S. Eliot wrote, “only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” While Eliot may not have been directly addressing the Gilman class of 2011, his quotation certainly defines the character of our class. Since I started Gilman in sixth grade, our class has always carried a bit of an infamous reputation. It might be fair to say that we’ve been a little rebellious. We’ve walked the line between hubris and confidence and, well, we’ve frequently crossed that line.

Yes, we have pushed the envelope and at times gone too far. But as Eliot writes, we can only discover our true potential if we are willing to dare. What Eliot neglects to mention, however, is that daring is only half the picture. What is just as important is learning from when one has gone too far. Now, I don’t think that there is anyone in this audience who can say that the class of 2011 never risked going too far. Let’s take a look: Due to an abundance of class spirit, we single-handedly made all artificial noisemakers banned from MIAA sporting events after we deafened the opposition with vuvuzelas and a vintage crank air raid siren. Under Austin and Joe’s leadership and Sam’s spirit, we came out in record numbers to support the volleyball team, though at times with too much baby powder in an attempt to imitate Lebron James. Perhaps our greatest measure of school spirit is manifest at this very moment…this is the first year when we actually have complete attendance at graduation.

The beauty of this year’s graduating class is not solely based on the success of its students, as wonderfully talented as they may be. What defines this class is how we refused to accept infamy, and how we not only dared to make mistakes during our earlier years but how we learned and matured from these mistakes. That youthful exuberance that so keenly characterizes our class never waned. Rather, we learned to channel that energy towards class solidarity as exhibited during our senior retreat. 

This year we grew just as much as individuals as a class. Our accomplishments are not limited to school spirit either. In sports, our class came together, bringing home championships in lacrosse, track, and soccer to name a few. I also read in The Sun that Darius is pretty good at football. Academically, Byerly took the It’s Ac team back to another state championship match, Sam Davidoff-Gore won the Best Delegate Award at Model UN and oh don’t forget Prewitt isn’t too bad with a calculator. Artistically, Snouffer, Flaks and the rest of the cast kept audiences howling during a wonderful musical performance, while the artwork of Griffin, Sam, Elliot and Allan made our halls a daily pleasure to walk through. Gi mobilized the troops in his countless lunches for the homeless and Christopher’s Place campaigns, and Drew introduced us to The Wounded Warrior Project. Seniors, you really stepped up this year. Such success may have been unthinkable when we were freshmen. But it was through taking chances and then channeling this brimming energy that we have had such a successful senior year.

We are the ones that tested boundaries more “thoroughly” than others. But we too are the ones who never gave up on ourselves. We could have left Gilman in a couple of ways: at war with the administration, divided among ourselves, the same as when we entered. But instead we learned from our mistakes. We did not lose our identity, we did not conform or sell out but we learned. There was no pivotal, cataclysmic moment when the light switch turned on and we became the young men you see today. We did not transform over night; rather, we grew over four years. Our grade has a remarkable trait, which has fostered this growth, and that is our inherent energy. 

And if there is one accomplishment that symbolizes and encapsulates our class’ development and character, it is the lacrosse semifinals. Supposedly we played a pretty good game. Ryan and Connor, you may have to refresh my memory on that one. And as incredible as that comeback was and as triumphant as that following championship victory felt, its significance far surpassed the thrill of just those ten men on the field. That come-from-behind, man down, three goals in the last minute performance, serves as a vignette of our Gilman experience.

We battled back from sure defeat. We are that lacrosse team.  We are the 1980 miracle on ice team. We are the Little Giants, the Mighty Ducks, and the Bad News Bears. We are Rudy, Rocky, the karate kid and every other underdog that miraculously triumphed against the odds. We are the Jamaican Bobsled Team. We are the ones that refused to go down in infamy. We are the ones who rallied back from the steepest of climbs. We are the Gilman Class of 2011. We have all heard of Remember the Titans, but I say to everyone in the audience: remember the class of 2011.

If there has been one person who has symbolized the adult support for the Gilman Class of 2011 throughout our four years in high school, one person who dared to believe in us, it has been Ms. Hammer. While Ms. Hammer may have been the most vocal supporter of our grade, she is emblematic of the patience that the faculty and all of our parents allowed our grade. From our freshman year antics to this very day with a class of Gilman’s finest graduates, she has unwaveringly supported us.  She would always say, “Just you guys wait; with all that energy you are going to come together and you are going to be great.” That patience on the part of all that supported us is what allowed us to grow. And for that I would like to say thank you. 

You saw our chutzpah and our energy not as destructive signs of arrogance and defiance but rather as the sure mark of irrepressible youth. Our potential has always been there, budding, waiting to be realized. And it is because we dared that our potential remains so great. It is because we had the courage to question and ask why that we have become one of Gilman’s most unforgettable graduating classes. That audacity, that boldness, that daring, that courage is what defines the class of 2011.

So important is that courage: the courage to do the right thing in the face of adversity, the courage to speak one’s mind, the courage to have an opinion. Our grade has never feared making mistakes, but more importantly we have always possessed the courage to learn from past failures.

As we leave for college, we feel like there is nothing we cannot accomplish, and that is because we learned and became a closer class as a result of it. We didn’t just make it here by stumbling across the finish line either. We roared onto this stage as students, as artists, as athletes, and most importantly, as a class. We will forever go down in Gilman history, and I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise. 

There is no doubt in my mind that we will approach the world with the same daring and the same willingness to learn. There is such talent on this stage. With such talent, there is enormous potential. We have already made our mark on Gilman; now let’s do so in the world.

I could fill this speech with mere maxims and platitudes, Seize the day class of 2011 or The world is your oyster, class of 2011, but the truth of the matter is you don’t need me to give you advice. Graduates, you don’t need me to give you encouragement as we prepare to leave for that unknown world ahead. You, each and every one of you on stage, have made it, not in infamy, not at war, but united with the willingness to dare and the courage to learn from past mistakes. Underclassmen, you have big shoes to fill…Go for it.

Graduates, I began this speech with a quotation, and so too will I conclude this speech with one by novelist Paulo Coelho. “The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams.” Class of 2011, congratulations. It is an honor and a privilege to be standing here alongside each and every one of you. Keep daring and never stop learning. Now go out into the world and make a difference. Thank you

 

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