June 26, 2022

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In their own words: Class of 2022 speakers | Opinion

Editors note: Throughout the coming weeks, The Standard-Journal will be running the speeches delivered by speakers at high school ceremonies for the Class of 2022. Today, the speeches delivered during Warrior Run High School’s ceremony.

Kindness gives us purpose

Greetings Class of 2022 graduates, families, and members of the Warrior Run community. I’d like to begin by thanking the Warrior Run faculty and staff, as well as the school board, for all of their hard work over the past four years amongst the impacts of COVID. Our class has dealt with more restrictions and guidelines in high school than any other class thus far, and I think I speak for us all when saying that this has been the most normal year since freshman year of high school. Due to difficulties relating to construction, many of our class’s athletes were not able to practice at the school, but they did get to experience unique seasons in which we called other locations our home for practice. Undoubtedly, this year may have been the craziest yet, but I’m grateful to have had a senior year where we got as many opportunities to make memories as possible.

Throughout our educational experience, I have no doubt that we have all learned something about ourselves, each other, life, or even the world around us. One of the greatest epiphanies that I have had in high school is how kindness is associated with being visible, how much it can influence the acceptance of who we are, and how it builds and sustains trust. In other words, kindness gives us a purpose. A quote by Abraham Lincoln says, “Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. It will wear well and will be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away.” More often than not, our best memories from high school consist of times when we simply felt happy, and kindness always leads to happiness. In order to keep making memories for ourselves and others in the future, we have to actively practice being kind.

I’d like to share a personal example of how a random act of kindness affected me. One day last year, I was pleasantly surprised when two of my friends showed up to my house and gave me a Kit Kat bar from Sheetz. I was sick that day and declined their invitation to go out, yet they still went out of their way to show kindness towards me. That Kit Kat made my day; it improved my mood, empowered my self-esteem, and most importantly, it made me feel seen. There have been so many times in life where I’ve felt depressed, lonely, and unappreciated. We’ve all felt this way at some moment in time, and nothing hurts worse than existing in a world where we feel purposeless or forgotten. Everyone wants and deserves to be seen, and the only way to make that happen is by performing acts of kindness to show that we care about others. Seniors, there are many negative forces such as drama or other social pressures that prevent us from being kind, but I encourage you to see through these barriers and treat others with sincerity and respect in your future. Kindness comes in no distinct form, so regardless of whether you buy someone a gift, tell someone thank you, or even exchange a smile, know that you have made a difference by making someone feel valued.

It is important to understand that kindness also functions as an agent of our acceptance of others, including ourselves. The truth is that we are all different. Due to varying opinions that shape our way of thinking, these differences are often the reason why kindness is absent in our lives. It’s not wrong to stay true to your beliefs and who you are, but it is wrong to criticize or harm others for their perspectives, because we do not walk in their shoes through life. We need to learn to accept our differences, as this is the first step to showing kindness. Without doing so, hatred can only grow, while self-confidence shrinks. Sometimes it can be hard to see through eyes other than our own, but always do your best to keep an open mind and try to see things from a different perspective. By doing so, we can empower others and learn to have pride in ourselves. That’s how we can carry defender pride into our future.

The last thing I would like to suggest about kindness is how important it is to build trust in your relationships with others. Undoubtedly, all of our diverse futures consist of both challenges and relationships in some way. Although we are all strong individuals, there will be times when we need someone to help us up when we fall. This cannot happen unless we build trust with others. In reality, trust is a powerful sense of security, yet it can be so fragile. The easiest way we make or break trust is with our words and communication skills. When we say unkind things to others, our words can bounce off of them like a wall, or it can be like a stab to the heart. People take insults, tonality, and opinions differently when heard, so you may hurt someone without realizing it. However, if we use genuine kindness with our words and actions, we don’t have to worry about discretely hurting others or damaging their trust. If we remember this next time we interact with someone, we can build strong friendships, connections, and romantic relationships through trust, so that we have someone to lean on when we are vulnerable.

Ultimately, we all want to feel something, and there is more depth to an act of kindness than simply making someone happy. Like many things though, kindness is a two way street. If you give kindness to others, you can rest easy knowing that someone will do the same for you in your time of need. And remember seniors, no one is perfect. We are all broken in some way. Take a look at your fellow classmates around you. We all may have had quarrels in the past, but I can guarantee that no one here is instinctively a bad person. We all go through different things, but everyone here deserves kindness and a chance to be forgiven. Remember that it’s never too late to start giving kindness.

As we move on to the next chapter of our lives, I encourage everyone on stage to simply be friendly to everyone they meet. I know from experience that it can be difficult to continuously give kindness when it isn’t always reciprocated, but keep doing it anyway. Bob Kerrey once stated, “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change,” and I absolutely agree. We may only be a group of about 100 seniors, but considering that we all have different futures, we can change the lives of others wherever we go, even if it is just one smile per day. If we do this, I know we will receive kindness and appreciation in return. Remember, tonight is an example of how we, the Class of 2022, are appreciated. Graduation is not only a ceremony of honor and achievement, but one of gratitude and thanks. Congratulations Class of 2022, we did it. I hope the best for all of you, and regardless of your path, remember to treat others how you want to be treated. You won’t regret it. Thank you.

Liam Boyer, valedictorian

High school is, to some, the end of an era. One could, in theory, liken it to reaching the end of a book and having to pick out another book from the library. However, this is not the most accurate interpretation of the situation-high school is much more like the first chapter of a thousand page book rather than the end of a picture book. This is why I question the notion that high school is the best part of a person’s life-life can’t peak when it has hardly begun. So, to me, it feels a little silly to put any weight behind what I have to say when I’m an eighteen year old with limited life experience- an eighteen year old who did well academically, sure, but an 18 year old nonetheless. Despite that, I appreciate your attention and would like to extend my gratitude towards the important people in my life who have gotten me through this first chapter.

I’ve never been great at writing stories down. As much as I love story-telling, my usual style is to improvise and hope that a theme finds me, avoiding any pesky planning work. If you can consider this speech a story of sorts, you might see that writing it is a bit out of character for me, both stylistically and in the sense that this could be considered an expression of school spirit- something I’ve kind of avoided at every turn. Regardless, in writing this speech, I knew I needed to start with a central theme. As I did some soul-searching at 2 a.m., a question that haunted me in my younger days seemed to come back: who am I? By now, I think I have a decent idea of who I am. But if you were to flip the pages backwards, all the way to the start of the book, you’d see that I certainly didn’t start out that way.

If I met my younger self, I’d be confused as to how she developed into me. I was the quiet kid who never spoke to anyone, I lacked any confidence or authority, and I couldn’t even make eye contact with anyone until I was maybe ten. That little girl didn’t know who she was, so she read a lot of books and tried on a lot of different personalities-any of them would be better than who she truly was when she had a reputation for being shy and not much else. It wasn’t until I was maybe 14 that I finally dropped this facade- it was tiring, to be frank. Now, I talk way more than I ought to, I love to perform onstage, and- well-the eye contact thing could still use a little work. But, what changed? To put it simply, I sought validation in myself rather than through external means. I clung to ideas of characters I read about or saw in those cheesy coming-of-age movies because I was scared of myself. I didn’t abandon those concepts entirely to develop into who I am-I still love to read and analyze characters- but they are no longer the most important thing in my life. Reading now supplements my life rather than controls it.

My goal here isn’t to make you be like me. Really, my life isn’t something I think others should emulate-I’m typically fueled by a mixture of sleep deprivation and room temperature water, and I’m so indecisive and obsessive that I applied to a whopping 68 colleges. Seriously, who does that? Let’s be real- I’m a mess. I’m not standing here out of some desire to preach to you or flaunt some perceived superiority. What I am saying is that I know who I am, while I know for sure there are people out there who are terrified of building an identity outside of Warrior Run. Since I was afforded this opportunity to speak, I figured if nothing else, I could make you see my perspective- one that I think most people have never considered.

What, then, is the perspective I want you to consider? Well, seeing as the first chapter of our lives is about to come to a close, why not take a pause to see how the plot has developed? In my experience, I’ve often found that, by the end of the first chapter, I’ve already decided whether or not I like the protagonist, since the author normally sets the scene for the kind of person they’ll be for the remainder of the book. With that in mind, I want you to take a few moments now to think about who you are. If someone asked you that question right now, how would you answer? Would you define yourself by what you do- a football player, an artist, a farmer, or whatever else? If that’s how you would answer, I’m afraid that you’re approaching the question from the wrong angle- in fact, you probably don’t know who you are at all. If you try to identify yourself with a few words or some one-size-fits-all label, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment when you inevitably outgrow the label. Define yourself by who you are, not what you do-and what you do isn’t who you are. I’m not a theatre kid, a musician, or a nerd- I’m just Kat Brady, a person who happens to like theatre, music, and needlessly fancy words. This is why I’m not big on school spirit or tradition-the secret is that you don’t need it in your life. Neither thing is inherently bad, don’t get me wrong. However, I see people who hide behind tradition and spirit in the same way I hid behind fictional characters in my youth. If you’re overly reliant on these things, you lose out on who you can be when you stand alone. When you leave here tonight, the name of the high school printed on your diploma shouldn’t be the most important thing in your life. If you find pride in being a defender, carry that into the next chapter of your life- but don’t cling so tightly to this identity that you stunt your growth as an individual. What matters far more than any label is that you take what you learned from your time here to be a good person. In the end, people will only remember you for your character, not the circumstances that molded that character.

I can guarantee that some of you out there are terrified by the idea of leaving this building, and I sympathize with you. Certainty breeds comfort, but comfort is the enemy of progress. Apparently PT Barnum said that, but I had a goal of not using any quotes in my speech, especially not from corrupt businessmen, so we’ll just gloss over that fact. Anyway, there is something easy and safe about building an identity for yourself inside these walls, so to leave that behind can be frightening. Rather than be scary, this idea should be liberating. You’re being afforded a chance to start anew, to reinvent yourself. Don’t stay the same person you were in high school. You and I both have a long way to go before we’re truly great people. I told you earlier that I’ve already cast judgement on the protagonist by the end of the first chapter, but that doesn’t mean my opinion is static-most books feature dynamic characters who undergo changes throughout the novel, much like we do in life. So, don’t take high school to be the final step on this journey or the end of your character development. We have so many new experiences ahead of us, and regardless of what they may be, we can use the lessons we learned here to face them head on. Anyway, what I am saying is that you need to look at Warrior Run as the first leg of the race- this graduation isn’t really the end of anything, but the start of everything.

Finally, I want to leave you all with an idea: don’t change the world. Too often, I think we get caught up in this idea that everyone needs to be a revolutionary, a hero, or a changemaker. I understand this misconception, too. If you read enough books, you’ll start viewing yourself as a sort of main character in your own right- there’s a reason people joke about being the main character nowadays, after all. In all honesty, though, this idea is insincere and not remotely feasible. Not everyone needs to be special and the world can only handle so much change. Rather, change your world. Be the best person you can be, not for the sake of being remembered or praised, but for the sake of your own satisfaction. Live like you’re writing your own autobiography, not a history textbook- you are the most important character in your own narrative.

As we walk out of this building for perhaps the last time in our lives, I ask you to remember two things. First off, who you are now is subject to change, and that’s okay. This graduation might seem like a big deal now, but we’re young and it should be taken to be a small victory on our part- part of the rising action, if you will- rather than the climax of the story. Second, to deviate from my theme and acknowledge an important part of my personal narrative, don’t forget to stop and look at the cows every now and then. No, I’m not joking- going on a long drive to look at the cows is my version of therapy. Is that kind of silly? Maybe. But it makes me happy, so I’m not going to stop doing it- just like how I implore you to never stop being yourselves even if who you are isn’t who society wants you to be. With that said, I can officially bid my classmates farewell and open the next chapter of my life- one that will admittedly have fewer cows involved.

Good evening and welcome to the commencement ceremony for the Warrior Run Class of 2022. I am grateful for the opportunity to be speaking with you today, and I would like to start by giving thanks to the many people who have impacted our journey and helped us get to where we are this evening. To the faculty and staff, thank you for the desire to see us succeed and the patience to work with us over the course of our educational journey. Thank you to the school board and administration for the time that you have devoted to this school and specifically to this class of students on the stage tonight. And to all of the friends and family who are present this evening, and those who are not, thank you for the support you’ve shown and the guidance you have given us as we’ve gone through this journey.

It is evident that each and every one of us have had a different experience throughout our time here at Warrior Run, but we can take comfort in the fact that no matter how different they were, we have all made it to this important part of our journey. The Class of 2022 is a diverse one, but there is beauty in that fact. We can embrace this diversity. Oftentimes, we can get caught up in focusing on the “destination” for which we are striving, instead of soaking in the lessons along the way. We are here tonight to celebrate this accomplishment, but this is not the end of our journey, for it is just an important stop along the way.

Tonight, I would like to stress the importance of the journey we’ve had, from our very first day of school, up until our very last. Our feelings and experiences have not all been the same, but we can all likely relate to some similarities along the way. I’m sure many people have felt a variety of different emotions on their first ever day of school. Some experienced excitement as they picked out their first day of school outfits and walked into their classrooms for the first time, while others have likely experienced different emotions on their first day. Rather than excitement, some probably felt anxious and nervous to start a new chapter in their lives, and others may have simply been dreading it. As we’ve experienced our last few days of high school, I’ve realized that our final days felt very similar to our first day. Some of us are relieved and happy to be finished, others are sad and wish it wasn’t over, and I’m sure some feel a mixture of both. But it is these moments and memories that have all shaped us into who we are today, and it is time for us to embrace the diverse journeys each of us have had as well as the future various paths in which we all will be embarking.

Allow us to reflect now on some of our fondest elementary memories at the beginning of our journey, such as field day and the competitive spirit that we brought each year and how recess was what we looked forward to each day. For some, it seemed like the end of the world when we had to “stand on the line” and couldn’t participate, or we got our kickball privilege taken away, because we couldn’t “play nicely,” but for others, it did not matter because they weren’t really into playing at recess anyway. I’m sure all of you can remember when we would be in the cafeteria at lunch, talking and eating, when all of the sudden we would look up and see the traffic light move from green, to yellow, to red in a matter of seconds. Next thing you knew, it was 2 minutes of quiet. Some of us I’m sure didn’t mind the quiet, because it allowed our brains to relax a bit, whereas others struggled to hold their tongue for those 2 minutes that seemed like a lifetime. I remember the day before Christmas break, where everyone wore pajamas and we watched The Polar Express in the “blue room” to celebrate the holiday season. One of the last memories from elementary school is the last trip we had, when students from both Watsontown and Turbotville elementary schools came together and met each other at the Exchange Pool. I’m pretty sure we avoided each other for the first 2 hours anyway… but what better way to prepare us for middle school than some awkward introductions and encounters with each other? Thankfully, we have come a long way since then.

As we transitioned to middle school, we can remember Egyptian Days in 6th grade social studies with either fondness or horror. I remember looking forward to lunch (in general) but most importantly on Thursdays because we got Subway or using our soar cards to get a certain number of throws at the dunk tank on field day. No matter what moments stick out to each of us, I’m sure we can all agree that middle school was an awkward time for some of us, so maybe we actually choose not to remember certain memories of aspects of our journey.

Perhaps, the most important journey is our high school one. Most of us remember different things, each unique to our own experiences but there are a variety of similar moments I’m sure we all remember, that have contributed to our journeys. From freshman year, getting yelled at for clogging the hallways in the morning or between classes to senior year, where we were the ones doing the yelling. High school was where we each were able to branch out and make decisions for ourselves that would shape our individual journeys. We were given some freedom to choose the classes that we felt would challenge us, benefit us, and/or ones that we could enjoy. We could take classes that were in line with our own interests or career paths, which is what makes each of our journeys unique. We had certain classes with some of our best friends, but we have also had classes where we maybe didn’t know anyone very well. Some of us chose to focus more on our studies, while others pursued extracurriculars in arts and participated in plays/musicals or dedicated themselves to sports or other hobbies. We were given the choice to take part in the LYCO program, or the STEM and ACE programs at Bloomsburg University, that many of our students dedicated themselves to. This opportunity to choose, that high school provided us with, allowed each of us the freedom to start to build our own paths and create a journey filled with a variety of different memorable moments and experiences — some that we share, and others that are unique to our personal journeys.

When we look back on this time in our lives, I imagine we will all remember the spirit days, and of course, the pep rallies, where we’d come together as a class and try to win the spirit stick — which we finally did senior year. However, this was not always the case with our class homecoming float… but hey, at least we had fun doing it. On another note, we also can’t ignore the construction project that has impacted each of our journeys. We may not have necessarily had a “home” field advantage this year, and unfortunately, our class will not be able to reap the benefits of the finished athletic complex or play another game under the lights, but we were able to find ways to embrace this part of our journey. We learned to be thankful for the opportunities we were given, and it reminded us to cherish the simple moments, like the memories made on bus rides to practices and games.

Throughout our final days at Warrior Run and all the events that have come with it, such as Special Education Field Day, the class trip to Ricketts Glen, powderpuff, tractor day, and so many more, I’ve been able to see how we’ve grown as a class. When I think of our class I think of how many different groups of people are represented and how there is great diversity, yet we always come together when it matters most. Together we have also persevered through a global pandemic, virtual learning, and all the obstacles that came with it. Our senior year brought us the most “normal” year we have had since we were freshmen, and as a class we made the most of it. We have learned to look on the bright side, keep a positive outlook, and take advantage of every opportunity regardless of the situation that was handed to us.

The choices we have made, along with our memories, have shaped us into who we are. Not one journey is perfect, for each and every one of us have experienced struggles, defeats, and tragedies. For one thing, I have learned throughout my time here at Warrior Run is that sometimes no matter how bad you want something, or how hard you work, you don’t always achieve what you want or feel you deserve, and in that moment, it hurts and makes us question why certain things have happened in our lives. But it is moments like today, standing here tonight alongside our best friends, that we can feel fulfilled. We can be proud of ourselves for making it to where we are tonight. No matter what type of journey you may have had, we can embrace the beautiful fact that each and every one of our experiences was different, yet we are all here tonight, celebrating this accomplishment. So, I encourage you all as we go our separate ways and pursue our future plans, to continue to embrace your journey, because this is where true character is built and where lessons can be learned. So, embrace both the achievements and the setbacks, the similarities and the differences, and the highs and the lows for these are moments that will truly shape you into the person that you will become. For no matter where your journey takes you, you will always have a home with the Warrior Run Class of 2022.

Alayna Wilkins, class president