Speakers at graduation are determined by participation in the Cadden-Williams Prize Speaking Contest
Class of 2021, take in this moment! This moment is one you have achieved after four years of hard work, dedication and strength. Today you are celebrated for all you have accomplished. Pinch yourselves and notice that this moment is indeed real.
Before I continue, I would like to give thanks to Dr. Kelly, our Head of School, as well as all of the teachers, administrators, counselors, class advisors, campus safety officers, cafeteria staff and the entire NFA staff as a whole for making this moment possible. I also want to welcome and thank all of our family and friends present today. You all were truly the village that has helped raise us in the past four years. And, for that, our Class of 2021 wants to give you all our biggest thank you!
Now, we all know we have just undergone a “different” year, to say the least. There is no word in the English language that is able to define the year we have all just lived through.
Back when I was a sophomore and was told I would have the opportunity to speak at today’s event, I would have laughed in someone’s face if they told me our graduation would be at Dodd Stadium with face masks and social distancing following a senior year that was partly virtual after a year of lessons based from a Google Meet!
Nobody would have been able to predict a virus would take over the entire world. However, although this pandemic has been part of our lives for 453 days to be exact -- yes, I counted -- I did not want the entirety of my speech to only highlight this class as the one that survived these ‘unprecedented times.’ There is so much more to our class than simply being the first to go through our entire senior year while also worrying about a global pandemic. The remarkable strength, resilience, diversity, loud voice and drive are what truly make up the Class of 2021, and that is what must be highlighted.
Our class has been one to break barrier after barrier at Norwich Free Academy. We have been the class that has had the highest amount of people of color be part of the National Honor Society, taking AP and honors courses and overall seeking to be leaders in school clubs and class officer positions.
The different cultures in our school have come together to display a sense of unity. We have made signs during Hispanic Heritage Month. We have celebrated Chinese New Year. We have honored Haiti’s independence, and we have uplifted the rich cultures in our school that make this high school unlike any other.
I want to honor the unique dedication from the students graduating today who are first-generation immigrants, who have come to this country without knowing the language, and still worked diligently to do their absolute best in school. Therefore, to my fellow Peruvian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Cape Verdean and all students today who are representing their native country with pride, congratulations on living out the dreams of the generations that have come before you. Pat yourselves on the back, because you did it!
This class has demonstrated what a true cultural mosaic looks like. We have learned to not only value our ideas, our way of being, our way of life -- but also the ideas, being, and life of our classmates.
In a time in which we are so close to being out on our own, we begin to appreciate how loud we can raise our voices and how many people can hear us. Perhaps some of us are wondering how we can still leave a mark after the year we lived through. And what better way to leave a mark than for speaking up for those of us who don’t have a big enough platform to be heard?
With a culture mosaic comes a burst of colors, all ultraviolet and at full brightness. With a cultural mosaic, we have the ability to learn about people we would not be able to learn about anywhere else. Let this be an example of how to live our lives moving forward and how the country and the world around us should live out their lives -- to continuously choose love over hate, unity over division and empathy over apathy.
After these past four years, it is time to venture out beyond this fishbowl we have become accustomed to -- to prioritize following our dreams and not a paycheck, to become independent, and not fear failure, but rather welcome the growth that comes with it.
Today, you all must be questioning and fearing what lies ahead, like we once feared leaving Cranston and walking past the seniors. But, similarly to overcoming our fear of asking a senior where our class is in the strange building named Bradlaw, we will be able to overcome any future obstacles we may face. No matter the path you have envisioned in front of you -- attending college, enlisting in the military or simply taking a gap year -- make sure to continuously follow your passions and do what truly makes you happy. Allow yourselves to step out of your comfort zone to truly see life in all its different forms. Always remember to speak out on the issues that matter most to you, view failure as redirection and don’t underestimate the value of being empathetic.
Continue doing what our generation does best, holding onto hope. And remember the words of Amanda Gorman, “As there is always light if we are brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Speakers at graduation are determined by participation in the Cadden-Williams Prize Speaking Contest
Congratulations to the Class of 2021 on your graduation. It has been a year unlike any other in history, and despite all that everyone has been through, here you are ready to graduate and move on to reach your goals.
As a graduate of the Class of 1971, I am both thrilled and honored to address you. Thank you to my classmates for affording me this opportunity.
Thank you, too, to Dr. Kelly and the NFA family for inviting the Class of 1971 to have this partnership with the Class of 2021.
What could I possibly share that will make a difference to you based on what we experienced in 1971 and all that you have experienced over your years at NFA?
I could talk about who dated who, how we spent our weekends (I don’t think I would publicly share that), how our sports teams did and about the very liberal dress code that was finally passed during our third year. Our music and art programs were exceptional. This has not changed. NFA IDs were implemented and two security guards were hired, too! I wish I was still paying .40 for a gallon of gas. There were many environmental issues in 1971. And, it was during these years that we lost Main, MT and Commercial to Tirrell, Cranston, Shattuck and Bradlaw.
So, really, what do we possibly have in common?
During this time of unprecedented need in our country, both due to the pandemic and civil unrest, I see the importance and connection of where we started here in 1971 and where you are now 50 years later. In 1971, Project Outreach was started. Today, due to your hard work and a strong commitment, Project Outreach is an award-winning student organization helping the hungry, the homeless, the elderly, the disabled, the school community and more. Community Service is a critical need, then and now.
In 1971, we had marches to feed the hungry. So many today are struggling with food insecurity. Racial unrest was evident, too, in those early days of the 1970s, and we had what we called the Intercultural Committee to promote general understandings between all groups of people at NFA and in the community.
We had marches through town to address some of these critical issues. We were aware, but maybe not quite as vocal and well-spoken as you are today. I am sad to see that racial bias and unrest are larger concerns today. Together, we must continue to address the injustice and stand up for equality.
We had basic struggles in our day, but they have certainly grown over these past 50 years. These are the challenges that you have and are experiencing now. So much has changed over 50 years, yet so much stays the same. Your struggles have been so very tough. The social isolation, learning without regularly being in a classroom with peers and teachers, giving up sports seasons and music programs. The list is long. I am thrilled that you can celebrate graduation together this year and that we are here with you and your friends and families.
The Class of 1971, has had reunions regularly and, though not huge in numbers, we dance and sing to our favorite band Melaena. We catch up on old stories and try to recognize each other. Wearing yearbook pictures as our reunion ID is humbling for sure!
With every story comes a learning opportunity. One never would have guessed that our worlds would stop in March 2020. Take a moment to think about what these times have taught you about yourselves and each other. These are life’s lessons and even with all the disappointments along the way, changing traditions and developing new ones continues. For example, who would have thought you would have your graduation in a baseball stadium instead of on the beautiful NFA campus?
What you must remember is really what my classmates and I have experienced while at NFA and in the 50 years that followed, and as hard as it may be to see it, everything is a learning opportunity for each of you and all of us. We must look at where we have been and where we want to go and pick our paths, even though they often change. It is more important now than ever to get involved in your communities and in using your voice to speak about what is important to you. Pay it forward, even if you are the only one.
In 1971, and those exceptional four years before that, my class developed many of our own stories, ones that we continue to tell some 50 years later. What has not changed over these 50 years is our need for each other, the need for love and kindness, the need for acceptance of our differences.
Now more than ever, the Class of 1971 asks that you continue to advocate for yourself so you can reach your North Star. Never forget the person behind, in front or beside you. Even getting registered to vote or encouraging someone else to is a way to serve. Thanks to those of you who have decided to serve our country in the Military. Our country needs you. Our world needs your compassion, your knowledge and your energy. Remember all that NFA taught you, even if you were in front of a computer screen on Zoom.
NFA has been here for us throughout these 50 years, in different ways, and I know it will be here for you, too, as will the Class of 1971.
I close with this quote from a book called “Maybe” by Kobi Yamada. “Do everything with love. Follow your heart and see where it leads you. Because there really is more inside you than you know. And the world needs your gifts, your talents, your big ideas.”
From the Class of 1971, congratulations! We are so excited to see how you will change the world!