Jessica is the niece of Cleinman Performance Partners’ Vice President of Finance, Pamela Miller Sparaco. Pam shared with me Jessica’s Valedictorian speech from this past weekend’s graduation ceremonies at Andrew S. Draper School in Schenevus, New York. Schenevus is a teeny tiny school about 15 miles away from our headquarters in Oneonta, New York. Jessica’s class of 22 individuals is not atypical for schools in our area. While hailing from a small school (as did I), Jessica’s words are those of a giant.
“Good afternoon and thank you all for coming today as the Class of 2012 of Schenevus Central School begin the next chapter of our lives. I’m going to start with a bit of honesty, and let you all know that this speech was extremely difficult for me to write, not because of a lack of topics, but because Schenevus Central School has taught us so much over the last thirteen years. For example, Mrs. Green taught us that Huckleberry Fin IS full of insightful life lessons, providing you have the will power to stay awake while reading it. Mrs. Bliss has taught us that even the right answer with the wrong work is wrong, and Mrs. Anderson has taught us that you should invest in the stock market in May if your plan is too lose exponential amounts of money.
Now it goes without saying that these things are all valuable lessons that we will use in college and beyond. But I want to dig deeper than that today as I address my fellow graduates one last time before we turn the page and begin our lives post Schenevus central school. There are nine billion people in this world. What besides obvious hard work and dedication sets successful people apart from the rest? Over the past thirteen years I’ve concluded that the answer to that question is courage; more specifically the courage to be yourself and follow your dreams.
Courage to be yourself. The words sound simple, much simpler than the hours of studying and hundreds of tests I have taken that have brought me here today. But in reality it’s not that easy, because it takes a great deal of strength to grow up and become who you really are in a world that’s constantly trying to mold you into what it wants you to be. After years of looking at myself, my classmates, teachers I admire, and public figures that inspire me…I’ve observed that successful people are, for lack of a better term, weird. They are the students who will stay in on a Saturday night reading when everyone else is at the movies; the teachers who will jump across the front of the room singing to help their students learn a lesson; and the men who say the world is round when everyone else says it is flat. They have the courage to venture outside of their comfort zone, and rule out failure as an option, even when probability says otherwise. We live in a world that has proven time and time again to be resistant to change. And if it weren’t for brave individuals challenging the accepted and laughing at remarks such as “you can’t” or “that’s impossible”, there would be no progress. Successful people go against the conventional way to learn, teach, invent, and inspire, and when met with resistance, they are not afraid to explain the method to their madness. In addition to this, successful people pursue their dreams, no matter how wild and outlandish they may seem. Sometimes this means disagreeing with a friend, standing up to a boss, or being left of out the group. Having the courage to be yourself and go after what you believe in is not always comfortable or easy, but for those who trust in the beauty and the power of their differences, it is fundamental to success.
That being said, I would like to thank the teachers, coaches, and staff here at Schenevus who have supported my classmates and me throughout the journey that has led us to this day. Thank you for believing in our talent even when we didn’t. Thank you for accepting our differences, even when others didn’t. And thank you for supporting our crazy ideas for our future, even though they may seem impossible now. I would also like to thank all of the parents and community members who have encouraged us to be courageous and bold throughout our lives. Your effort and caring has made all the difference.
Finally, to the class of 2012, it is through the ups, downs, laughter, tears, and the myriad of memories that you truly have become a second family to me. Although I’ve said countless times over the last four years that I cannot wait to graduate, I wouldn’t trade a second of that time for anything, because we as a class were something different. We didn’t fight, we didn’t put each other down, we joined together when necessary, and occasionally we got a little crazy. I can also safely say we were, and undoubtedly will remain, the only group to put on a flash mob in Miss Bliss’ calculus class without some type of punishment. Jokes aside, I know that because of this you will all go far. As we walk out of these doors today and begin the next chapter of our lives never forget where you came from, always keep an eye on your dreams, and most importantly, never lose the courage to be yourself. It is the best gift you will offer the world.
I want to conclude this speech today with a quote from a man whose ingenuity and courage to follow his dreams linked an entire world through communication and technology in a way that had never been done before. Prior to his unfortunate death in 2011, CEO and founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, released a poster with a special message:
Jessica is off to the University of North Carolina to study chemical engineering. It’s clear that she has a great future. Well done, Jessica! Best of luck as you pursue your opportunities with courage.