Valedictory Address by David Shimer, HGHS Class of 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
~ from HGHS Graduation Day

Good afternoon everyone,

I am honored to have the opportunity to address you all today. To start things off, I would like to thank the excited family members, teachers, and friends in the audience for coming. Only the excited ones though, if you’re not excited, feel free to take a nap.

I would also like to directly address my fellow seniors – hey guys. After spending four, eight, and even thirteen years together, I can’t believe that it is time for us all to finally separate.

On the bright side, at least we aren’t freshmen – well, at least not high school freshman. Don’t get me wrong, I loved high school, but I don’t think I could handle being 14 again. Just think of the awkwardness, the intimidating seniors, the intimidating freshman, the bus, the sandwich line, and the legendary war for a homecoming ticket. But fortunately, just as Elle Woods eventually blossomed into a strong, independent woman, we have all blossomed into seniors.

In ten years, I hope that you will all remember Greeley as fondly as I will. Sure, we have all had our ups and downs. I would be lying if I said that there have never been moments where I dreaded coming to school. But overcoming those moments enabled me to form a connection with this place, and in the process Greeley has become my second home.

Unfortunately, graduating means that our Chappaqua bubble will finally pop and Greeley will become a memory, just like E building. But before that happens, I have the unique opportunity to address all of you.

While preparing for this speech, I reflected on my time at Greeley. I asked myself: what lessons have I learned while here, not including how to sneak food into a quiet cubicle or how to perfect the dirty left. Well, after a lot of thought, I finally settled on two subject areas: taking the initiative and the importance of mentorship. These two ideas are extremely important to me, and I hope that you will soon see why.

My first idea, taking the initiative, came to me when I least expected it to – on a Saturday night. While at a “large social gathering” of sorts, an old friend of mine with whom I had lost touch asked for a ride home. While I drove, we talked about middle school and soon realized how much we missed being friends. By the time I dropped him off, we had both agreed to talk more.

I wish I could tell you that on Monday we stopped in the halls to chat, or that we at least waved, but instead we avoided making eye contact and said absolutely nothing. Neither one of us had the courage to take the initiative to just say “hey.” 

Throughout high school, many of us have taken the initiative by studying for exams, trying out for a sports team, or applying for a job. On a more personal note, right before my college’s admitted students weekend, my friend Grant suggested that I take the initiative by shaking countless hands and being as friendly as possible.

His advice worked, and in the process I learned a lesson: my failing to say something in the halls a few weeks ago was a mistake. Just because my old friend did not wave at me does not mean that if I had waved, he would not have waved back, and just because that school day felt typical does not mean that I should not have made more of an effort to be outgoing.

I envy students who are naturally warm 100% of the time; Julia Desmaris and Noah Weissmann come to mind. I aspire to be more like them. Because as we enter our collegiate and professional lives, I believe that a little initiative and warmth could go a long way toward helping us achieve our dreams, whatever they may be.

Some of you may dream of making a difference, some of you may dream of helping others, and some of you may dream of just making bank. Our goals may differ, but there is a constant: none of us can accomplish our dreams on our own. We are all going to need help at one point or another. Which brings me to my second point: the importance of mentorship.

Mentors can come from all places, and I would like to acknowledge the biggest ones first. Mom and dad, thank you for your unconditional love and support. Grandma, Grandpa, Nanny, and Poppy thank you for always rooting for me. Nicole, thank you for being my greatest role model. And, of course, Adam, thank you for being my best friend.

My family may have prepared me for high school, but my Greeley mentors are the ones who got me through the past four years. There is no way that I would have been able to produce an issue of the Quake, for example, without the mentorship of upperclassmen. They are the ones who guided me and gave me the chance to lead.

But how can I broach the subject of mentorship without mentioning Greeley’s faculty? I think we have all had “that” teacher who found ways to teach us the intangibles. Personally, without Mr. Houser, I would not have a passion for history, and without Ms. Breen, I would not know how to turn a mentorship into a friendship.

Outside of the classroom, perhaps the best example of mentorship in my life comes from my friends. In middle school, my friend Jake and I joked that our relationship was symbiotic: he helped me socialize, and I helped him study. Every joke has a little bit of truth, and this was no exception. Under his mentorship, I became much more outgoing and much less awkward.

So, I hope that you have all had equally meaningful high school mentors. But high school is over, and it is time for us to prepare for the next phase of our lives. Whether it be choosing a club, a major, or an internship, we are going to need help, which makes finding the right mentors an important task for all of us. So be friendly, introduce yourself, or simply follow people around. My brother calls it stalking; I call it taking the initiative.

Taking the initiative. Look at that, my three favorite words are back. As it turns out, they go hand in hand with mentorship. Together, these two ideas form my final point of discussion: taking the initiative to find mentors, or, in other words, finding the courage to ask for guidance.

My time at Greeley has shown me how critical guidance can be. Mentors have the power to change our lives; they really do matter. As we go forward, another person’s advice or support could help us develop our social skills, refine our work ethic, choose the right laundry plan, improve our jump shot, learn a new language, make new friends, land an internship, or find a job. The list goes on and on and on.

But one thing is for sure: it is unrealistic to expect others to magically volunteer to guide us. We need to help ourselves first by being proactive. Just as parents see younger versions of themselves in their children, other adults see younger versions of themselves in us. They want to help. All we have to do is ask. And if someone says no, who cares? In the words of one of my own mentors, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you take it that matters.” So have the courage to ask again. You have nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain.

Whatever happens, please know that I will be rooting for each and every one of you to succeed. Because the thing is, after spending so many years together, I feel remarkably attached to all of you. And I am going to miss you all next year. The fact that most of us will lose touch scares me, and the fact that I might never see some of you again scares me even more.

So before we all separate, I would like to thank you all one last time for making my high school years so memorable and formative. It’s funny; I have spent a lot of time talking about the value of mentorship, yet I failed to mention all of you. But if you think about it, just as Jake and I mentored one another in middle school, we have all been mentoring one another since kindergarten. Over the past thirteen years, we have guided one another without even realizing it; we have pushed one another to be better people; we have shaped one another into who we are. And maybe that’s what high school is all about – learning from one another.

All in all, I feel lucky to have grown up with all of you, and I hate that it is time to say goodbye. But I can’t go on forever, so, seniors, to wrap things up, I encourage you all to take the initiative, find mentors, ask others for guidance, and guide others. Rather than wait for opportunity to present itself to you, have the courage to create your own opportunity. I look forward to Googling all of you in 20 years and reading about the amazing things you’re up to. And, if I walk by any of you on the street, I will be sure to say hello.

Thank you for everything, good luck in the future, and, most importantly, congratulations.

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