Friday, May 31, 2013

UCHS 2013 Valedictorians Celebrate their Classmates, Teachers, and Alma Mater

Last night was commencement for the University City High School class of 2013.  Almost 200 seniors and their families filled the Chaifetz Arena on the campus of St. Louis University to celebrate their accomplishments and step forward into the great unknown that is their future.  UCHS had four Valedictorians (students with 4.0 GPAs or higher) this year: Ethan Farber, Sam Polzin, Dan Politte, and Anna Soifer.  They delivered an outstanding speech highlighting their classmates and paying homage to their alma mater, and although you really needed to be there to get the full effect, here is the text for you to enjoy.

A: When
D: we
E: were
S: told
A: we'd
D: each
E: be
S: valedictorian,
A: we
D: were
E: given
S: two
A: options:
D: give
E: separate
S: speeches,
A: or
D: a
E: combined
S: speech.
A: We
D: chose
E: to
S: combine.
A: My
D: name
E: is
S: Anna
A: A--oh.
D: Um....
E: Maybe
S: we
A: should
D: just
E: go
S: with
A: Plan
D: B.
E: (steps forward and clears throat)

In preparation for this speech, a speech that was to pay tribute to teachers, classmates, accomplishments, and memories with such an artistic and touching flair as to be applauded by everyone, the four of us got together for an intense writing session. Our only goal, aside from blowing you all away, was to not fall prey to the trite, overused cliches of valedictorian speeches past, including but not limited to: good times, bad times, friends, enemies, embarrassing moments, saying we'll never forget each other, saying it again, crying a little bit, annoyingly long lists, etc. And, after trying to navigate through these roadblocks, we came to the realization that not being cliche is practically impossible. But the reason it's impossible is not because we're incapable, or because nothing grand and unforgettable ever happened for our class; it's because we can't sum up our U. City experience in one, or even four, speeches. There's just too much to say, and not enough of us up here to say it.

To adequately explain what U. City has been to us, has meant for us these past four years, it would be necessary to invite the entire class up here, for every single one of us has had a unique experience which we are supremely incapable of generalizing in one speech. We realize that we have been honored with this seemingly impossible task because we are talented academically. For us, it is no big deal to memorize a chart of trigonometric derivatives or to write a scholarly analysis of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. However, if you were to ask me to run eight miles, or Ethan to do a pirouette; if you wanted Dan to draw a realistic portrait or Sam to sing and dance in Footloose, you would be sorely disappointed. In light of this, we thought it only fitting that while standing here, being recognized for our accomplishments in the academic arena, we should recognize those students in our class who have sacrificed much of their time, and probably a couple of grades, pursuing excellence in a wide variety of accomplishments. Our class, the class of 2013, is a veritable diamond mine of talent, and many of our diamonds have been uncovered, cut, and polished, their beauty exposed for all the world to see. We have dancers, four in fact, Cameron, Jordan, Daphne, and Dontel, whose sparkles have caught the eye of the dance world and who have all been recognized by Dance St. Louis for their abilities. We have athletes like Merinda, whose shining performance both on the field and in school led her to be named one of the 150 scholar-athletes of the St. Louis area. We have musicians like our drummer, Zach, whose dazzling performances both in jazz and marching band have won him wide acclaim. We have students like Abby, whose skills on horseback have allowed her to represent the United States in international competitions. I know I’m missing people; I know that there are many more extraordinarily talented people in our class than those few that I just named, but to fully recognize every talented person, every diamond, we would again have to invite the entire class up here with us. Where would this treasure trove of talent be, however, without the miners, gem cutters, and jewelers employed by U. City High? These people, teachers and administrators, coaches, directors, and counselors, are the ones that exposed our talents to the light of day, the ones who cleaned and polished, who nagged and yelled, but without whom, all these talents might still be lying latent, hidden beneath the surface. At times we hated them, hated the innumerable essays, the lengthy rehearsals, the unending practices, but without them we would be nowhere. Over our four years here, they have provided us, out of the generosity of their hearts, with myriad incredible opportunities that have allowed us to grow into the young adults you see here before you.

Many of these opportunities varied over our four years in which we saw three different principals. This year, however, I think it is safe to say we could hold our heads higher due to our restored confidence that U. City High offers students an environment on par with schools around St. Louis, all with the help of one man. Many might call him a hero; some may say a selfless leader. He came to us in our time of need, a symbol for hope, a symbol of strength under the guise of a mask, and his name is…Batman…? Oops, sorry, wrong speech. His name is Mr. Maclin. Mr. Maclin, although not Batman, came to U. City with a belief that the class of 2013 and the whole student body deserved the best, because he recognized our potential as students and as leaders. Mr. Maclin saw the talents that the teachers of U. City High had been nurturing, and he was determined to give us opportunities to showcase them. I was fortunate to have had the chance this past winter to participate in one of Mr. Maclin’s all-expense paid events, as I was able to see Barack Obama’s second inauguration alongside 25 of my classmates. The trip was an incredible experience, even though I was taken advantage of by the media. Probably not the most noteworthy aspect, but definitely memorable for all who attended, are the ridiculously obnoxious yellow sweatshirts we had to wear whenever we were in public. Such a thing would be a travesty to the fashion conscious person, but we came to embrace those blindingly bright sweatshirts. While we thought the hoodies were an embarrassment and Mr. Lewis told us that they were to identify us in a crowd, I believe Mr. Maclin ordained the sweatshirts in order to announce to the world that U. City was in Washington DC. It is from this experience that I will try to offer a small bit of insight: class of 2013, as we prepare to go out into the real world, where we can no longer hide behind Mr. Maclin—which, admittedly, he has recently made more difficult—we should all put on our bright yellow sweatshirts. We should let the world know that the class of 2013 is ready to compete, and we should seek to stand out in every crowd. Just as Mr. Maclin came to U. City with a vision to expose greatness in every individual and to showcase the talents of U. City students, we will have the chance in the coming years to proudly brandish our experiences at U. City High for everyone to see and to follow the example Mr. Maclin has set to become fearless leaders who not only embrace change but, more importantly, find a way to make it happen.

On that note, we can consider what this time at U. City has been preparing us for. It is time, after all, to start anew. But what does that mean, exactly? What are we going to do in the lives ahead of us?
I’m not trying to give anyone advice about where we go from here. Because let’s face it: we’re all in the same boat; I certainly don’t have any more ability to say than any one of you. We’ll just leave the advice-giving to more qualified people, people with more experience. All I want to do and, I admit, all I can do, is share with you in the feeling of moving on, the wonder at what the future holds. Because we really don’t know. Yes, we’ve made plans, to go to that college, that university, that technical school, to work that job. Do we really know, though, where we’re going, what the destination is? We have plans, but nothing is set in stone. The world is open before us, and who knows where we’ll end up? Okay, that sounds really cliche. But so many cliches are relevant to our situation. You know, a thousand miles, a single step, the possibilities are endless, a new chapter beginning, etc. We’ve all heard them, maybe thought in terms of them. This is why we couldn’t entirely get away from cliches today: they hold too much cheesy truth.
So today we can bask in the fading glow of our time at U. City High School, and look forward to the future. Whatever we do, class of 2013, I’m sure that it will be amazing.


As we bring to a close this valedictorian speech, our final farewell to friends and classmates, I am reminded of a bit of wisdom posed by a dear friend of mine. She said that the reason we as humans create so many videos, take so many pictures with our smartphones, and record every little bit of life that we possibly can is that we are afraid to lose anything to the vast whirlpool of eternity. These are the last words that I will say to you all as a fellow U. City Senior, and before I stop talking, I'd like to make a memory. If it's a quick picture I want, I brought my phone, but the administration has warned me against disrupting the ceremony, and has advised me that it should be stored in my locker and out of sight at all times. I guess I'll have to try something else. A friend suggested that I end this speech with an auditorium-wide Harlem Shake, but that's not me, and we've already tried several times in the past week and failed--and my parents would kinda kill me. So that's out. Let's see; I could have you all sit for a portrait, but something tells me that asking 200 teenagers to sit still is a task for Mr. Maclin, not for me. I already have at least five different videos of this moment to choose from, courtesy of my family trying desperately to find my best side--don't worry, guys, it's this one--so that leaves with just one option; the oldest form of record-keeping and memory-storing: a quote, a quote that I've invested with my own meaning. Forgive me if I slip into Latin for just a little while. The people on this stage; the people in the crowd; the people who aren't in this auditorium, but in our hearts instead. You are my friends: mei amici. You are my family: mea familia. And although we've made it a point of avoiding cliches throughout this speech, from the bottom of my heart do I say these words to each and every one of you sitting before me. The quote I have in mind is also Latin, and it was written 2057 years ago by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the greatest Roman orator. Cicero said, "nostrae amicitiae memoriam spero sempiternam fore." I hope that the memory of our friendship will last forever. And I think it will. It's that time, U. City: time to say goodbye to the people and hello to the memories; time to go home to our pictures and videos. But I think I'm leaving something out, U. City. Could you tell me what it is? What time is it?

(At which point the entire audience responded with a resounding, "U. Time!" of course)

1 comment:

  1. What a great speech! UCHS has always produced top-notch students, and it appears that the class of 2013 is no exception. Best of luck to the valedictorians and their classmates.