It has been a pleasure to grow, learn, and develop alongside my classmates for the past 12 years. I wish everyone the best of luck as they move on to their next chapter in life. The following is my valedictorian speech as delivered on the night of graduation.

Congratulations Class of 2018!

Hello fellow students, teachers, administrators, parents, family, and friends. We are here to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2018, but none of this could have been possible without the help of all of you here today. On behalf of my classmates, thank you for the countless hours of support and guidance you have given us over the past 18 years. It seriously takes a village to raise a child, and all of you have played an important part in that. To our teachers, thank you for the many sacrifices you’ve made and hours you dedicate to helping us learn and grow both as students and as individuals. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and siblings, thank you for being our core and molding us into the people we are today. To my mom and dad, thank you for being my core and supporting me every step of the way.

And now to my fellow graduates, congratulations! While we learned plenty from our elders, we also learned a lot from ourselves. At this point, we have spent most of our lives together. We have all grown and learned from each other. We have learned about teamwork, kindness, and compassion in the classroom and on the field, the courts, and the stage. We have developed bonds, shared laughs, and listened to each other when we needed a friend. And now, we will take everything we have learned from each other with us as we move on to the next adventure in our lives.

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When I tried to reflect on my past four years here, I stumbled upon a letter I wrote to my future self the day before the first day of high school. In the letter, I spend most of the time wondering how I should feel. “Should I be excited or nervous? Should I be stressed out about my classes? Should I be scared of the upperclassmen?” I think my past self summarized it best when he said, “I don’t know what I should feel, let alone what I actually feel.” Now, here I am, the day before my first day as a high school graduate, and I’m beginning to sense that same feeling of uncertainty again. Should I be excited or nervous for the future? How am I going to suddenly leave the only town I’ve known my whole life in the fall? Where do I go from here? As my past self said in this same letter, “I’m excited for change, but it’s terrifying yet exhilarating to know that each day counts towards my future, and I don’t want to miss out on any opportunities along the way.”

We’re all about to turn our tassels, throw our caps, and enter the real world, but we certainly aren’t strangers to its daunting yet exciting opportunities and potential. Our generation has been exposed to what’s been out there for years. We see it through our social media, news, messages, and videos. While we have a lot to learn from the experiences of our new adventures to come, we aren’t entirely ignorant of what adulthood holds for us. We have seen the world that we are coming of age in: all of the disruption, change, and history. While we have spent most of our time watching and learning from it, tonight we will become the newest participants who will contribute to it.

As we step into the next chapter in our lives and join the ranks of the next generation of world changers, we have the choice of what we take with us and what we leave behind. We may have to leave our family and friends behind until the next holiday break, but we can remember the lessons they’ve taught us, the advice we’ve received, and the memories that have stuck with us. We can remember facts about the Revolutionary War or the structure of an atom, but we can also remember what our teachers have been reminding us about since elementary school: that a smile speaks volumes, happiness is infectious, it’s important to stand up for others, and we should treat others how we want to be treated.

While these things may seem obvious now, we have to remember to carry them with us in the next chapter of our lives, into the exciting yet terrifying world that we have been waiting to explore. The past several years of learning both in and out of the classroom have prepared us to tackle the many problems and challenges our world is facing today. From scientific research to social justice, from serving our community to exploring the humanities, we all have a role to play in shaping the world and our futures. There are many new beginnings waiting to be explored, so don’t throw away your shot at making your mark. The world needs each of us to find our passion and pursue it every day. We have made it here, and there are a million things we had to do to get here, but there are also a million things you haven’t done waiting to be accomplished.

We are the next generation of powerful voices, and we are the ones who will be able to make a change. We see all that there is for us to do in this world, all of the responsibilities, all of the problems, all of the difficult tasks ahead of us. Although there will be times when the road ahead seems daunting and scary, we must not give up. As we each have faced obstacles in our past, we must continue to push past them in our future. We must not give up on our goals and our dreams, and we must not wait to achieve them. We must persevere because if not us, then who? If not now, when?

History has its eyes on all of us. Let’s blind them with our brilliance. Congratulations Class of 2018, I can’t wait to see all that you accomplish.

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