Salutatory Address by Emma Benack, HGHS Class of 2014
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
~ from HGHS Graduation Day
It’s great to be here – and it’s great to be seventeen. Why? Well, for starters, we can stop looking over our shoulders when we sneak into R-rated movies. We can drive without an adult passenger criticizing our “lead foot”. And we can be here, at our high school graduation.
How did we get here so quickly? It’s the question everyone’s been asking for practically our entire senior year. How could we have had our last homecoming dance? Our last Fun Ball Tournament? Our last 2 a.m. Rocky’s run? Well, maybe not our last. And now, one of our final memories of high school – here we are at graduation. Congratulations everyone!
Here’s a quote some of the girls in this audience may recognize: “Never underestimate the education and privileges that Greeley has given you.” Does that ring a bell for anybody? Well, that’s a quote taken from a place not known for its words of wisdom, a bathroom wall in upper L building. Still, it has real meaning. The education we’ve received in this community is priceless. Many of us frequently complain that life in New Castle is life in a bubble. Let’s face it, it’s true. Still, we need to recognize that we are some of the most fortunate people on this planet. Outside this bubble, there are children fighting for the right to go to school because they desperately want to learn. The biggest obstacle we overcome in getting to school is when our car’s in the shop, so we have to take the dreaded bus.
Greeley has created a cycle of nurturing to which I will forever be indebted. I began attending Greeley fifteen years ago. No, I wasn’t a child prodigy. For the adults out there, no, I wasn’t Doogie Howser. I attended the Just Three Preschool, where my education began and my first schoolteacher was our very own Mrs. Williams. I loved it there, just like I loved taking Child Studies this year. I remember being in preschool and having high schoolers run around outside with me and read my favorite stories. This year, as I participated in those same activities, but from the other side, I felt a sense of completion. The same went for my experience in the Peer Leadership program. My peer partner, Brett Mester, and I worked hard to help acclimate a group of freshmen to the nuances of high school, just as we were guided by upperclassmen when we were in the ninth grade. Greeley has instilled in us the importance of giving back, nurturing our roots so that others can reap the benefits. The diploma we receive today recognizes our individual accomplishments. I suggest it should also signify that we have a lifelong commitment to pave new roads, not just ones that carry us forward, but wider roads that will allow more people to travel the highway of privilege upon which we’ve been granted a head start.
We’re about to begin a new chapter of our lives, and we’re not going to always have the same level of support and help that we’ve enjoyed since birth. We’ll encounter people who are older and more experienced, and younger people who will try to steal our spotlight with their fresh ideas. And we’re not going to be too happy about it. I myself experience this on a daily basis – in my family we call it Middle Child Syndrome. But once you find what makes you unique and special, you can discard the fear that you’re replaceable. Because none of us are.
We may not realize, as a class, just how much potential we all have. As my 11th grade math teacher once told me, “I know everyone says that you shouldn’t look at a glass and say it’s half empty. But I think, especially at your age, you shouldn’t see it as half full either. Right now, it’s completely full, brimming with the promise your future holds.“ He went on—and on—to tell me for the umpteenth time that keeping a clean room was essential for happiness and if I ever wanted to go out on the weekends. Did I mention the guy’s also my father? Right now, our minds are fresh and they are racing to be put to work. We are brilliant, we are brave, we are compassionate, and we’ll fight to achieve the results we want. If there’s one trait we share, it’s ambition. All it takes to get us going is a little incentive, drive, or maybe just winning the Color Wars. Say what you will, but I’m still convinced Westorchard came in first.
Even at seventeen, we’ve been united by so many experiences. These past couple of weeks alone have been filled with so many memories. There’s been “Honk for Seniors”. Beach Day. Prom. And who could forget our senior musical, Legally Blonde? Standing up here, I actually feel a bit like Elle, and I’m giving her major props for having the guts to start singing in the middle of her speech and then getting down on one knee and proposing to her boyfriend. Relax Mom—it’s not happening. I can’t express what an honor it is to speak to you on what may be the very last day that we are all together. My classmates, we’ve grown together these past thirteen years of school. We learned to read together, write together, play musical instruments, learn foreign languages, and now we’re about to spread our wings and fly away, together.
Someone once said, “Even after all these experiences, we’re still really struggling to find ourselves, not even close to becoming the person that we want to be. But you know what? I don’t think that’s a bad thing” (End quote). This was said by a member of our graduating class, Gabby Resnick. At seventeen, we may think there’s a set time limit for “discovering” ourselves. Perhaps by the time we graduate high school, or college, or when we get our first job. Well, I don’t believe that. Sure, people may establish a set of principles to live by, but if we ever truly and completely found ourselves, there’d be no reason to experiment or try something new.
Throughout this speech I’ve shared some powerful quotes, whether from fellow classmates, teachers, or that anonymous author whose chosen medium was the bathroom wall. They remind us that it’s the people who surround us, people from within our own community, who are our first, true inspirations. And that we, too, can encourage others. We don’t need to be Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Mother Teresa to enrich and motivate the people around us—to play a part in changing our world. We all have to start somewhere. I know I’m not a saint; I’ll admit it, I’ve made an illegal left into the senior parking lot. Maybe I should have waited until I got my diploma to say that. I’ve learned I’m not perfect—and I’ve learned that’s okay. It is our flaws after all that make us unique, and forgiving, and human.
I’d like to make one final point. This goes out not just to my fellow classmates, but also to our friends, parents, grandparents, and relatives sitting in the audience. Do you know why it’s great to be seventeen? It’s because, right now, our senior class is filled with the excitement, optimism, and courage it takes to transform the world around us. I hope we never lose that feeling, and I hope that the people here supporting us have not forgotten it either. I’m speaking to all of you out there when I say stay seventeen. At least on the inside—I’m not endorsing plastic surgery here. Stay seventeen. Because growing up doesn’t have to mean growing old. Stay seventeen and hold on to the vinegar that fills you with anger at injustice and intolerance. Stay seventeen and stay impatient for change… argue with those who say it can’t be done—because something can’t be done only until it is done. I love you all and I can’t wait to see us take the world by storm. Thank you.