News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The valedictory speech I wish I had given

Dear Class of 2020:

I am not here to give you the usual “Congratulations, we made it” or trip down memory lane. Because under our circumstances, what we need is something real, something that inspires us to emerge from this time of unrest with a heightened sense of moral awareness.

While it is inevitable that the world is constantly changing, it is also inevitable that we must grow alongside it. However, when we choose the comfort of seeing the world as we want to instead of as we need to, we become oblivious to one simple fact: Our lives are not centered around ourselves.

Yes, high school was a time to get the help we needed to feel better about who we were then. But now that we’ve reached this significant milestone, we must transition our thinking to a world beyond our concerns. Now is the time to ask: Will I take responsibility for others as my civic duty, or will I just keep taking, period? Because not only does turning 18 and graduating high school deem you an adult, but these turning points also assume you must act like one.

You see, for most kids, high school is about taking the opportunities you choose for yourself and using them to your advantage. But for a very few, high school is about giving their efforts into making their school and community a better place.

The problem with this culture is that while the takers are continually satisfied by what the givers are offering them, the givers become taken for granted. No matter how hard they work, they will never reap the benefits of their success. In the meantime, the takers become so used to receiving credit for the givers’ work that they become unable to face adversity themselves. Time after time again, our society only rewards the takers because they cannot distinguish between those who seem driven and those who are driven, and that is why society has failed us all.

I am a giver.

I have felt the frustration and disappointment that has come in hand with things continuously being taken from me.

I have given this school my high-achieving academic performance, my dedication to the Chinese program, my athletic skills and all-league awards, my continuous community service, and even my ethnic diversity as I was one of the only students of color at a predominantly white school.

This school took all of this from me while I received nothing.

Not even the smallest recognition.

When I asked the school to acknowledge that I had been emotionally abused by my coaches, they simply refused.

After all I had done for them, they could not give me the justice that I had so deeply deserved.

Now it’s fine that our school prefers to raise takers over givers. What is not fine is that our world needs more givers right now. Our school is a reflection of society itself. We continually seize things from others as long as we have smiles on our faces that mask our true intentions, and in this process, we have convinced ourselves that we are giving when in fact, we are doing the exact opposite. In a world that more readily accepts takers than givers, we must decide to change these standards. By asking ourselves how much we have really given and how much more we are capable of, we will learn to create lasting change in an unsatisfactory society.

Of course, it is normal to wonder why it is so wrong to put ourselves before others in a world that is already so self-driven. Regardless, you need to be reminded to not just ask what you want out of your life, but what life is asking of you. Our world needs those who are willing to solve the problems past generations have put upon ours, like preventing another global pandemic, dismantling systemic racism, and solving climate change.

Yes, for most of us, high school was ours for the taking, but the rest of our lives must become dedicated to giving. Because if anything, all the confusion, grief, and pain we’ve experienced during this time should only encourage us to build a better future for generations to come, one where our children are guaranteed a normal high school graduation, equal human rights, and the ability to know when to be a taker and when to be a giver.

The time has come to reflect on the finality of these past four years. Therefore, I would like to thank Sisters High School for teaching me how to give, and not because they encouraged this behavior, but because they took so much from me that giving everything I had became my only choice.


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