UCHS 2016 Valedictorian Lydia Soifer was kind enough to share with us her inspiring speech, delivered at the May 18th graduation ceremony. Lydia attended U. City Schools for 13 years, beginning with kindergarten at Jackson Park Elementary. She will be attending Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina this fall, studying biological sciences.
All of us have gone through thirteen years of school to make it to this point. At times it was great — we succeeded by getting a good grade or pulling our grade up after studying really hard for a final. But at other times the journey was a bit rougher. Maybe you didn’t quite get the grade you had hoped for or maybe there were things going on outside of school that made it difficult to get homework done. Either way, at these rough times we are faced with potential failure.
About a month ago, I stumbled upon a quote that stood out to me, as it was describing a predicament I see myself facing on a regular basis. It was a quote by Eckhart Tolle, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” For me, this quote applies to almost every aspect of life. In school, is it better to challenge myself even though I might fail, or should I take the easier route for guaranteed success? When I am in ballet class, should I try a triple turn and fall, or should I stick to a double because I know I can do one? In piano, should I practice even though I know I will fail the first few times, or should I continue to put off working on a hard piece because I am afraid I will never succeed? In each of these scenarios, the option that will result in improvement is the challenge, the option that might lead to failure.
Every single one of us has been faced with options such as these. None of us like to make the decision because the right choice requires us to step outside our comfort zone. We have to challenge ourselves even though it is difficult and may seem impossible because the difference between failure and success is not what distinguishes between a successful and unsuccessful person — what determines the difference is how we fail. One option is to give up, but this is no better than immediate success. We don’t learn anything, we don’t push ourselves, we don’t challenge ourselves to do better. The other option is to analyze our failure, figure out why we failed and how we can do better next time, and then, despite the fear of not succeeding, picking ourselves up and trying again. Maybe we will be successful the second time, but maybe we will fail again. We might even fail ten more times before we succeed, but each failure can teach us a lesson about ourselves. Whether it be learning a technique in art class or learning that if you think positively, you are more likely to make a successful pass in a football game, each failure can let us know how we can improve and eventually succeed.
As all of us leave U. City, we will find ourselves faced with many decisions, some of which will lead to immediate success and some which might lead to failure the first few times. We might be faced with the decision of whether or not to take the harder class in college, or we might have to decide whether or not to take a job that will push our skills beyond their current limit. At these critical points in our lives, we must remember that it is okay to fail. As we take the next step into life, we will be presented with many challenges, defeats, and failures. But these are not what marks our success. That is determined by our ability to take those challenges at which we did not succeed the first time, turn them around, and make them into successes which we can say we are proud of.
Thank you for your wise words Lydia, and best of luck to you in all of your future endeavors! We know you will continue to make U. City proud!