Advice given by WAHS seniors to graduating classmates
Graduation ceremonies for Warren Area High School seniors were held at the football stadium in Warren under threatening skies Saturday, June 12.
More than 200 students marched across the field to receive their diplomas, as the sky became more threatening. As the time came for the top three seniors to make short presentations, rain began to fall and folks in the stadium rose to put up umbrellas. Few attendees heard valedictorian Storm Sivak’s speech while the speeches planned by salutatorian Jason Bonavita and historian Alex Borger were not given.
The speeches prepared by all three graduates are shared below.
First of all, I would like to extend thanks to all the people here who have supported us students over the course of our lives. To the teachers and faculty, none of us would be here without your dedication to see us succeed and support us along the way. Thank you. To the parents and grandparents that put up with our bad attitudes and helped us during our struggles, but also celebrated with us during our successes. Thank you. To the coaches and mentors that have shaped our lives and drove us to achieve more. Thank you. Without all of your support, our journey through high school would have been even more challenging.
Now among us are future health care professionals, engineers, chemists, teachers, politicians, dancers, veterinarians, soldiers, businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, psychologists, technicians, foresters, artists, and workers ready to enter the workforce. But before we part, we should look back at the accomplishments we have had over the past four years. Our class has had many accomplishments both academically and athletically. From the WAHS Baseball Team winning the D-10 title in 2019 to the girls volleyball team placing second at the state level in 2018 to the girls soccer and basketball teams both winning two D-10 Titles, and to the numerous district qualifying athletes across all sports, the Class of 2021 has proved that it is great at whatever it works towards. The Class of 2021 has also had many merit honor roll and honor roll students and high-achieving students take Advanced Placement and Dual Enrolment courses. The peak of our academic achievements, however, may be learning to write an essay in a few hours because we procrastinated until the night before. (I will never forget the stories of people who procrastinated Mrs. Mandeville’s essays until the last minute and the terror of forgetting Mrs. Hanaway’s final research paper.)
Through all of these experiences it is important to take time and recognize the importance of the relationships we created while here. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I will forever cherish all the wonderful memories that I have made with you all and how you made me feel. I will forever remember our outdoor adventure during Homecoming – truly a Night to Remember — the Student Council bowling trips, the History Club trip to Gettysburg, and the many Quiz Bowl trips and trivia nights. Now I want to part with one bit of advice.
As you move forward in life, don’t necessarily focus on achieving success and fame, but rather focus on making an impact on the world. This will take time, this won’t happen overnight. You need to practice patience, humility, kindness, compassion, trust, honesty, and resilience. With these qualities as your North star, you will change the world one life at a time. Congratulations Class of 2021, go and change the world.
It is my honor and privilege to speak tonight as the salutatorian of your class. I could not have made it to where I am today without the help of my family, teachers, and peers. Some may have thought that my position was likely, even certain, but it was not until this week that I learned about my actual rank; the rank of salutatorian could have easily fallen to someone else. With this in mind, I want to emphasize just how uncertain life really is, although such a point needs little emphasis past what has transpired before, during, and after the actual commencement ceremony. The time was changed, the ceremony was cut short, and I am now speaking to you from the pages of the Warren Times-Observer.
And of course, this is not the only example that we have seen over this last year that has been filled with uncertainties. But instead of thinking about all this change and uncertainty as if you have no control over your life and what may become of it, I believe that such a situation, when examined closer, can yield the completely opposite philosophy. Because of the true uncertainty of life, no impossibilities really exist; it is your outlook on these obstacles that determines their difficulty and your chance of overcoming them. For a tangible example, look at me.
I was born with terrible eyesight–astigmatisms, extreme myopia, incredible nearsightedness–which meant I had to get eyesight correction as soon as possible. I got my first pair of glasses at 3 years old, and my parents often recall how I looked around in wonder at everything I could actually see; they reminisce about how I spotted a bright red car out the window of the eye clinic and pointed at it with excitement. My eyesight has not gotten any better since then–in fact, my prescription only gets stronger as time goes on–but as I become more aware of it and find more ways to deal with it, a condition that may have become an insurmountable obstacle in my day-to-day life is now almost not an issue.
Even with contacts, my vision is only about 20/50, but I did not let that stop me from pursuing academics and the things I loved with a fervent passion. I put my heart and soul into math from the beginning, and I have proven to myself that I can be a leader amongst my peers and classmates. I have pursued music in several facets ever since I was young, and have long been a member of the Boy Scouts through which I have enjoyed many experiences. Not once did I give up on my passions simply because I could not see as well as everyone else; I pulled the music stand a little bit closer, I held the Scouting Handbook a little closer to my face, I increased the zoom on the website where I applied for college. Such passion and perseverance is what leads to talent, and talent is what can and will lead to success.
If you take away nothing else from my speech tonight, take away this important phrase: perseverance laughs in the face of adversity. There is no greater obstacle than the one in your mind, and to overcome it you must master perseverance, the feeling of trying one more time in the hopes that you will get it right, the feeling to keep running even when your lungs are burning, the feeling that if you try just a little harder, you will make it happen. So, class of 2021, persevere. You have already done it time and time again during this pandemic; you adjusted and adapted in the face of schedule changes, cancellations, and shutdowns. There were several points during this year and the end of last where it would have been easier to give up, to throw in the towel, to succumb to the mental and emotional toll that the coronavirus put on all of us. But instead, you kept moving forward, and I know you can do it again even as you bid farewell to your teachers, your classmates, and this school and move on to something greater. PERSEVERE. Thank you.
First off, I would like to start by thanking my family, the staff at Warren Area High School, and everyone else on this journey for the past four years who has helped me along the way. You all are truly appreciated. Thank you.
For the longest time I struggled with what direction I would take this speech. I could stand up here and tell you how many times I was late for school, or how much I’m sure we all enjoyed writing essays, or all of the sports memories I have with some of my closest friends on this very field. However, I decided not to do that. Rather, I decided to focus this speech on all of you, the 162 (including myself) graduates here today. For many of us, we will be going to college, or beginning careers in the military/ workforce. So as we move in to our adult years, I’d like to share three main points.
1. Be intentional: In life you must decide what you want, and pursue it with everything you have. If you have a goal, chase it. You have a dream? Catch it. Never give up until you have achieved what you set out to do.
2. Help others: There is no greater joy in life than being able to help and be there for those around you. Although this might be surprising to hear, there are millions of kids around the world hoping to get the opportunity all of us have today, and sadly, never will. Help the less fortunate. Be kind. You never know how far a simple smile can go. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presents the idea, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?'” Take these words to heart and seek out those who need help.
3. Live in the moment: Not one person in this life makes it out alive. With the time we are all given, make sure to cherish the moment, because I’m sure as many of you can agree, these last four years have gone by much faster than you may have predicted. In the words of Andy Bernard, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them.”
As we reflect on these last four years, high school might not have been exactly how it was depicted in Mean Girls, Superbad, or The Breakfast Club, but It certainly was a movie that will provide us with memories for the rest of our lives. Thank you.