SAMANTHA BRIGGS: Valedictorian

Thank you, and hello to parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, administrators, and of course, my fellow seniors. It is an honor to speak to you all tonight.

First and foremost, congratulations! This is a major accomplishment and its importance cannot be diminished. These diplomas will open doors for us; they are our ticket to entering the real world of college, work, and our own, independent, lives.

This evening marks the end of an era. Our lives up until now have been pointedly targeted at reaching this goal — graduation — when we would no longer be children but young adults onto the next phase of their lives. And here we are. We have completed 12 years of primary education, we have conquered high school, we have outgrown our beloved Weston. We are leaving the place where phrases such as “being Doaked” and “eating a dirty bird” are commonplace and are about to learn entirely new vernaculars.

We have all been together for the better part of our lives. In September of 1999, we were a class of around 200 kindergarteners. And now here in June of 2012, we are graduating as that same class of nearly two hundred, give or take several dozen along the way.

Sharing a common history, we have become a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other’s names and everyone connects to everyone else in some way or another. This cherished phase of our lives is about to end as we move into a new and exciting phase where we get to recreate ourselves and get a completely fresh start. Though it is undoubtedly nerve-wracking, what an opportunity it is. How many other times will we get the chance to start anew? Where we get to decide and construct our futures to be exactly as we want them to be, while still remembering our pasts and who we are.

When I was writing my applications for college this fall, one of the essays I had to write was a response to the question “Why are you going to college?” At first it seemed like an easy question, I was going to college because… but how to finish that sentence? Because almost everyone in my family either has gone or is going to college? Because most people at my high school go to college? Because I like to learn? Because since I was little it was always just the natural progression? Then I thought about it further and I realized that though all these factors were absolutely true, my reason for going to college was something different completely.

The reason that I am going to college, the reason that we are all going to college, is because we are ready for independent, adult lives where we get to forge our own paths and affect change on a larger stage. And Weston has prepared us well.

Teachers have had a far larger role in our education than just pure academics, they have taught us incredibly valuable life skills. I can think of one teacher in particular who in the beginning of junior year put a seemingly random collection of numbers on the board and asked us to find the connection between them. After running through different combinations adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and finding no apparent connection, many of my classmates were tired of the game and just wanted to know the answer. However, I adamantly refused to hear it, wanting to figure it out for myself. It drove me crazy for days as I came up with more and more convoluted ways to force the numbers to make some sort of sense together. Frustratingly, in the end, I admitted defeat, as my curiosity outgrew my patience and I was told the aggravatingly simple solution.

The point of the exercise though, was not to irritate us for several days, nor was it to find the answer, but to teach us how to problem solve, to try and test different ideas and use creativity along with intellect to come up with the solution. Though this time I missed the last step, knowing how to problem solve has been invaluable. It was something I had always thought I knew how to do already, but my skills have been honed and I now have confidence in my ability to work through problems and find the solution, not just in school but in life.

Another teacher created not only in-depth discussions of literature in her classroom, but through those discussions fostered our abilities to think independently. By staying relatively neutral, allowing every opinion to be heard and encouraging development of differing ideas, she pushed us to defend those opinions and prove ourselves to our classmates. Thanks to her, we have achieved in developing critical and deep thinking, as well as the scrutiny to respectfully question and qualify interpretations that we do not agree with. We have gained confidence in ourselves and our ideas.

But teachers are not the only ones that teach us. We subconsciously learn from each other, when we collaborate on projects, when we pass each other in the hallway. We learn how to work with people that have different working styles and ways of thinking, we learn how to communicate with all different types of individuals, we learn how to forge relationships with unexpected others. These person to person interactions are crucial for our lives from this point forward as we assume the adult role that our parents have played for us. Even in this information age where so much is online, the ability to talk to others, whether they are roommates, professors, interviewers, or clients, is not yet a lost art.

We are ready for the big world that lies ahead of us. Up until this point in our lives we have been a part of the generation that lives according to a set of rules, and we are now becoming a part of the generation that will make the rules. We will decide the path that the future follows. American youth ages 18 to 29 constitute 24% of the population of voters, President Obama’s campaign was successful in 2008 in large part thanks to the support that he had from college-age voters. That is about to be us. And we already know how to be leaders; we have proven it this year.

We set a new precedent for school spirit. Never before have we been so excited and proud to be Trojans, without any undue competitiveness. We have had the largest turn-outs to sports events that this school has seen in years. We were the Powderpuff and Powderbuff champions. We earned ourselves a Senior Lounge and have been gracious enough to allow underclassmen to share our ping-pong table. We set an example for the rest of the school to follow, and as a result, the school climate has been welcoming, comforting, and supportive. We do not stand for intolerance or discrimination on any grounds. I helped to bring back the Gay-Straight Alliance in September of 2010, and the amount of support that we have received these past two years, from the faculty, from the administration, and from the student body, has been incredible.

We acknowledge that the recognition of full rights to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, religious beliefs, race, or anything else, is no longer a progressive mindset, but a just mindset. And I have faith that as we move on from Weston we will carry these beliefs and the drive to stand up for them with us and change the national discussion. Just as we took our roles as seniors seriously, I know that we will take our roles as influential members of society seriously.

I can’t wait to see where our lives will take us. We are spreading out all over the world from Southern California to Scotland from our little suburb, and I know that we are all going to do incredible things.

In the words of Conan O’Brien, “work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” I’ll see you all at our five-year reunion. Thank you.

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