Bulldogs: Embrace Your Challenges

            Editor’s note: The Wanderer has invited student speakers at this year’s high school graduation exercises to share their speeches with our readers.

By Jacob Hadley, ORR Valedictorian

            Good afternoon and welcome Superintendent Nelson, Principal Devoll, administrators, school committee members, faculty, staff, family, friends, and most importantly, the class of 2024.

            Last fall during college application season, I came across an essay question that asked: If you had the attention of 1,000,000 people for 10 minutes, what would you say? Well, we aren’t a million people, I don’t plan on speaking for that long, and I gave up on that application after five minutes.

            But standing here now, I’ve decided to revisit this prompt and share some thoughts with you that I hope are worthy of at least the number of incredible people before me today.

            Before I begin, I want to establish that, as a rule for myself, I try not to give anyone unsolicited advice. But I guess now, I’ve been officially asked to impart whatever message I might have to assist you on your individual journeys. Please know that I, in no way, feel qualified to tell you what to do. You’ve all persevered and worked and struggled and hoped and sacrificed your way here today. We’re all paving our own distinct paths. You’ll do things differently than I will and for different reasons.

            So today, I don’t plan on telling you exactly what to do because no one likes to hear that. I will, however, give you some insights that I wish I had known before starting high school when navigating life, choices, pressure, sorrow, joy, basically anything besides driving and road rules, which I’m far from an expert on.

            Now, I could stand here and tell you that I regret the time and effort I put into school over the last four years. I could do that because on some level I do. But I’m not. Instead, I invite us to reframe our view of the shared and individual challenges we’ve faced and will continue to face in life.

            For a quick moment, let me take you into the cramped kitchen of my dad’s seafood restaurant, where, since my first day, I plotted my escape. I hated the smell of raw fish, the dinner shifts until midnight, the never-ending orders, and to tell you the truth, Dad, because I know he’s listening somewhere – I guessed the temperature on every steak and burger I cooked. Sorry to anyone who ordered there last summer.

            For the longest time, my mantra was, “I have to get out of this place; if I do, my life would be so much better.” But, this recipe for disaster, which started with me working on the grill, ended up being a turning point in how I perceive failure and adversity. The same goes for school.

            I can’t remember how many times I thought to myself, “If I didn’t take AP Chem, my life would be so much easier.” And I know that at some point in your lives, you’ve probably thought, “Life would be a thousand times better if my biggest challenges were just gone.”

            But would it, though?

            I want to remind us that the reason today feels like such an accomplishment is because of all that we’ve persevered through to get here, especially our parking lot straight from “Fast and Furious.” Without all we’ve endured, we wouldn’t be feeling this wave of satisfaction. If there were no orders to cook at the restaurant, I wouldn’t have the experience and lessons I carry with me today. Plus, I wouldn’t know how to cook, which – I still don’t, but you get the idea.

            I don’t want you to think I’m saying, “Stay positive” or “Never give up” because those imply that you have to suppress your struggles and urge to quit.

            Rather, I encourage us to embrace our challenges because they’ve heavily influenced the people we’ve become. Diamonds form under pressure, muscles grow under stress, this class that I am beyond lucky to be a part of is graduating today. I know it’s cliche, but the evidence is all around us, because from discomfort comes growth.

            As we look into the future, which will inevitably hold more obstacles for us, one more thing I’d like to suggest is to never be afraid to show your enthusiasm for something. Do not let today’s false stigma around expressing your passions and ambition extinguish your flame. There’s this idea that the people who don’t want it are somehow better than those who do. Doing anything out of pure, intrinsic desire is not just an adequate reason for doing it, it is the best reason. Never be ashamed to try.

            I think it’s also important to acknowledge the fact that we likely didn’t get here alone. Don’t forget those who helped you through every setback. Maybe they’re with us today. If so, let them know. Maybe they’re no longer with us. In that case, I sincerely hope you’ll remember the impact they had on you.

            To my family, especially my mom and grandparents, thank you for your endless support in everything I do, and for never giving me the idea that I couldn’t be whatever I wanted to be and whomever I wanted to be.

            To my teachers, especially Ms. Graser, Ms. Connor, Mrs. Kellum, Ms. Wickman, Señora Carreira, and Señor Bernardo, thank you for giving me a love for learning, and (this mostly goes for Señor) for teaching me to authentically be you, even if that you is downright crazy.

            To all the amazing, brilliant friends I made here, you’ve bettered my life in so many ways, and have proved to me that we are 100% molded by the people and personalities we surround ourselves with.

            So, as we cross this finish line together, I once again urge you to see all that you can gain from life’s defeats and unapologetically reach for your goals and beyond without forgetting who got you there. The spectacular lives we dream of are dreaming of us. Thank you. And congratulations!

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