Salutatorian speech, Graduation 2015

Parents, faculty and students, it is with great honor that I stand here today celebrating the graduation of the Class of 2015. It is an overwhelming time of the year, especially after 13 years or so of education, also known as incarceration. But, in all seriousness, to take eight minutes of your time, I am very humbled and struggled so much to think of what to say.

So, I would be much more at ease, if you would think of this, not as a speech, but rather as the thoughts of a 18-year old student who has in front of her a world to explore.

Senior year began, for many of us, with many uncertainties, the largest and the most anxiety-causing of all being college, something often misconceptualized as a final destination, rather than a beginning. We reflected on our past, gave thought to our future, all within the context of college applications, a world in which numbers, rankings, and third-party opinions matter more than they should.

And in the process, we often lose sight of ourselves.

Most of us may have come across this quote at least once: “Love what you do and do what you love.” Yet what is frustrating to me and probably fellow students my age upon hearing this quote is the assumption that we’ve already discovered what we love. To be quite frank, I absolutely dread the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (I’m looking at you, college interviewers.) I feel like “I don’t know” has become the answer negatively associated with aimlessly wandering teenagers. Blame it on school, reality, media, or society, but whatever the cause is, one thing is clear. We don’t know ourselves. We don’t know what lies in the core of our being.

So, even before we head down the idealistic road of “pursuing our dreams,” I would like to ask you to find your center first, to figure out who you are. Detach yourself from all the worldly standards, shed the labels that have been plaguing us, and pay attention to how your heart, your brain, your every sense reacts.

Let’s think math, first. Imagine that you are drawing a circle with a compass. How is it done? You pinpoint a center with one leg of the compass and allow the other leg to glide its way across the paper, keeping that perfect equidistance between the center and the circle. Similarly, you can only begin to outline your character, your path in life when you have the starting point that is you.

Like any metaphors, there are, of course, flaws in this analogy. Flaw number one, in the real world, or so it seems: you cannot simply target a specific center as your point. Flaw number two, the circle that we draw, or rather attempt to draw, will never be a perfect circle. Our third grade math classes certainly attest to these imperfections. So, when I say to find your center, I am not saying that we should all draw perfect circles with fixed centers. Our 18 years have taught us how unattainable that bit is.

It’s quite the opposite and that is why I think we should be stars. Not stars as in Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, but the stars that dot and grace the night sky. In physics we learn that elements of a star’s core fuse and change. A young star has a core filled with hydrogen atoms, which then fuse together to form helium, then carbon and so on until it becomes the most stable element in the world: iron.

I think this is a more accurate metaphor of what life really is. Our centers can’t be constant. They just can’t.

Stars still grow in size with a chemically different center. In fact, their growth is fueled by the constant nuclear fusion, the constant change in their center. Likewise, we can grow from an evolving core.

We have in front of us a future that will be so different from our past. Every aspect of our lives, including ourselves, is bound to change. As a frequent mover myself, I can certainly vouch for that. Personally, these times of change are the best to experiment, to take risks, to understand yourself, and to see yourself in a new light. And the more you try, the more failures there will be, but also more opportunities to learn who you are.

But in the heat of changes, it’s easy to be swept away from yourself. It’s easy to move outwards, away from the center. So find the balance. We’re back to stars again. A star is stable because the inwards gravitational force balances with the outward radiational force (which, by the way, is the answer to a frequent IB physics question. so juniors, take note).

So what if there was no contractionary, inward, gravitational force in a star? What if, in other words, we don’t give ourselves the time to invest in us and the energy to look into us? Well, for the star, it would mean explosion. Its bits and pieces spread out in space. I would imagine a similar fate for ourselves. So before you go outwards, think inwards—establish your ground before you head out into the fast-paced world.

It’ll vary person to person how you reflect and know yourself. It can be through books, shows, art, or science, but a piece of advice that works for me is to be sensitive to your surroundings.

Look around you, the people, the other intelligent minds and see what they have to offer. Get to know the people, the place you live. Have compassion and understand through the heart.

See your reflection in them and let them reflect you.

That’s where you come in, class of 2015. During my two years at Graded, I consider myself lucky to be part of such a talented, diverse, and quite frankly, rebellious group. You guys inspire me through your skills, dreams and passion, and often I find your passion becomes mine and I see my interests become yours.

During these exchanges, I have learned much more about myself and I’m starting figure out, and I say it tentatively, what I’d “love to do.” Often, my inspiration comes from you guys, a comment someone makes during class, a story someone tells at the lunch table, a hypothetical biology question, or the evident commitment some of you have demonstrated to make senior activities happen. Whatever they were, you guys have taught me more than any textbooks ever did, and thank you so much for that.

In the end, this may have sounded like a talk about stars only, but really the reason I am saying all this is because I care about all of you and wish for you the happiest and brightest future.

So, to wrap things up, here’s a quick summary: find your center to know your dream, and to live a life that you’ll be proud of. And finally… fuse yourself to become an iron core.

Thank you, everyone.