Hannah Long Graduation Speech

Clare Cunningham

Dear freshman self,

This stinks. You don’t really know how to act, everything is so foreign and different, and you seem to be doing everything wrong. It seems like there’s this current pulling you deeper and deeper into this wide, vast, unknown ocean and you can’t stop it. All your teachers keep giving you books that seem to weigh you down like a backpack full of cinder blocks. You keep hearing “high school is harder” and “high school is different,” but so far it’s just as angsty and anxious as school has ever been. You are at the bottom of the food chain… but at least you’re on the food chain now, right? You’ll learn how to swim, slowly you’ll make progress against the current that once seemed impassable, and those six minutes between classes stop feeling like a race against time. You might be fresh meat to everyone else, but you’ve got three years to plant your feet, kid.

 

Dear sophomore self,

Oh. My. Goodness. Those freshmen are just soooo annoying. I mean, yeah, you were a freshman like just last year, but surely you weren’t that annoying. You finally get to ride in a car to school, whether it be from your friend’s new license or your own set of new wheels. Goodbye ugly yellow box on wheels, hello beautiful parking space. Okay yeah, the walk from the parking lot is like a mini-hike and you always seem to get stuck in the worst part of the traffic, but man, you’re driving now. You have a little more freedom in your life because, “mom, I’m sixteen now; practically an adult.” This is the year of firsts. First job (and it sucks about as much as everybody said it would), first date (and it’s about as awkward as you worried that it would be), first car (okay, this one is actually pretty cool). You dream of nights where you howl at the moon and live out a Lana Del Rey music video… but somehow you always end up eating pizza and watching TV because you’ve got to get home by ten.

 

Dear junior self,

Holy crap you’re an upperclassman now. You get to be up front in the football games, you get to hype up the crowd, and you know all the ins and outs of Staley. You’ve figured out how to get front parking spaces, and you’re out of the parking lot before the busses even think about stopping you.

Your parents finally accept that you’re getting older and they stop treating you like you’ve forgotten how to walk, which is pretty cool… until you have bursts of frustration over your school work. Nobody told you that junior year apparently was the hardest year of all time. For some reason people keep asking you about your future. Don’t you have all next year to think about college? Even so, you get little twangs in the sides of your chest because you only have one year to go… one year left.

 

Dear Senior Self,

Keep saying it to yourself. “I’m a senior now. This is my last year of high school. I am a senior now….” but you won’t feel it for a while. You’re mainly just ready to go.

You get to stand on the fence at football games, leave the assemblies first, you are at the top of the food chain, but you are exhausted. Dragging your feet just trying to make it through the day. The real highlight of senior year is the amount of things you do with your friends. Maybe you’ve always done things on school nights, but never like this before. Those 1 a.m. conversations and late night drives. All those nights where you actually howled at the moon and cried and laughed and cried from laughing; collectively begging for time to move a little faster so you can stop worrying about waking up early tomorrow morning. You won’t feel the “oh crap it’s all really ending” feeling for a while. You’re stuck with the “when is this over?” feeling; counting down the days until… now. Then it hits you. This is it.

Without warning senior year has flashed by you. College applications, scholarships, prom, graduation parties, senior photos, cap and gowns… it’s all rushing past you like a race you didn’t know that you were a part of. Out of nowhere, you are performing your last performance, you are playing your last game, cheering your last cheer, competing your last competition, submitting your last test, you are taking your last picture and you silently beg time to drag by just a little bit slower so you can get a grasp on where you’re standing for once. There are no more “next years” or “next times.” We stopped counting down to our summer vacations and started cheering on the end, feeling a flash of weird reluctant excitement as we realize we’ve broken through that finish line asking ourselves “Where do we run to now?”

You are in charge now. This is your time. Nobody is here to tell you to take this paragraph out or to add that line in because there is no grade for this story. It is your turn to do amazing things and make a change and excel in whatever it is that you choose to do. There are no longer a set of numbered paths to choose from, not one or two, there is an open field and you have the freedom and the right and the choice to go in any direction that you choose.

Work hard for it because it’s a power and a privilege that we are so blessed to receive. It’s up to us to get an education and to work hard and to get our hands dirty to turn around some day and look at the paths that we have single-handedly paved for ourselves and for our world. Let the air dance around you and the world spin beneath you, but be the force that pulls people together. Put more smiles on more faces. Contribute to more laughs and exercise respect. You are part of the biggest force in America. You have the power to choose what you do with that.

So get inspired. Get ready. The rest of your life lies in nobody’s hands but yours now.

Dear College self,

You are going to do amazing things. Good luck.

 

Sincerely… you.