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Asra Ali: Valedictorian

Good evening! It’s a tremendous honor to be able to stand before this brilliant, hard-working, class to speak to you today. But first, I want to take this opportunity on behalf of our class to extend a heartfelt thank you – a thank you to Ms. Wolak, to the faculty at WHS, our friends, our family, and especially, our parents. Thank you for having confidence in us, and never letting us settle for less than what we could do.

We, as a class, have graduated Weston High School together. On a small scale, we, all of us, are extraordinarily similar. Human-to-human genetic variation is around .05%; we are the same. We’ve felt the same ambition as the person next to us, the same loneliness, the same anger and distress. On the other hand, we’ve shared the same happiness too – the same rush of endorphins, dopamine, and seratonin.

But are we really the same? I’m not just a Weston High School graduate. I’d like to call myself a Pakistani-American math enthusiast who enjoys drawing on the side. There are a people behind me who stun me with their commitment to our school, or can play any sport they’ve practiced. They’ve achieved tremendous strides in basketball, swimming, dance, and programming, to name a few. Just like we’ve excelled as seniors, I’m certain that we will in the future, too.

But for this moment, we’re all Weston High School graduates. Every choice we will make our paths diverge, and we have every bit of choice to choose which way we want our life’s frame to move. So how do we determine divergence? (Calculus, unfortunately, isn’t necessarily the right answer in this case.) Divergence comes from the choices we make – the times we smile to someone passing by or by choosing our relationships. It’s about what we do from where we are.

If there’s one thing I’m taking away from high school Calculus (because I won’t let this go without a good, solid math reference): where you end up is the sum of where you began, and, most importantly, how you got there – and so far, for us, Weston High School is part of that journey. In 20 years, when we look back from where we end up, we’ll think about how our experience in high school had opened up a multitude of different paths that we could take.

Most people won’t be able to remember the first day of high school, when we walked into the lobby to a hall of worst fears that we would be alone, or hurt. I remember it quite distinctly – I felt like choosing to go to school on that day was a new beginning that I was scared of pursuing. I didn’t want to embrace it and become a part of it. I sulked into my second period English class that day; but, that class changed my mind. That teacher came up to me, and whispered to me that if I was fasting for Ramadan, I shouldn’t hesitate to go get some water if I needed to. Granted, I couldn’t drink water, but her compassionate gesture altered my perception; I moved away from the worry I felt, and, in part, it gave me the encouragement I needed to stand before you today. I wasn’t alone: I had hundreds of people journeying with me, and even more that were ready to lend me a hand when I needed it.

But now at this point, we’ve all converged to this single event. All 200-odd different paths we’ve built have led us to this – even through contaminated water, a hurricane, and the nor’easter in November. Part of this celebration, even for a couple hours, is the joy that comes from shared experience. But, from here on, we will all pave our separate paths, diverge, and build a cladogram of Weston High School graduates – whether we’re in California or staying right here in Connecticut. We will all embark on our own diverse paths as we encounter different people, careers, and futures. When all is said and done, no matter how far we stray from where we are now, we will still maintain the common thread that unites us and brings us together today: graduating Weston High School in the Class of 2013.

So, do something you’re passionate about. Accumulate your own choices. From where we are now, you have the power to forge your own path – and you may even be lucky enough to impact someone else’s.

For the time being, we’re all Weston High School graduates. But, in five years – I’ll see you then.

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