Class of 2016 Valedictorian
Hello everyone! Before I begin I just want to give a huge congratulations to New West’s first graduating class! There were some days when I feared we wouldn’t make it here. When the dozens of orange signs went up around the neighborhood, or when we anxiously awaited the results of our multiple hearings. But we did it, thanks to the incredible work, vision, and dedication of Dr. Weir, Mrs. Barnett, Mr. Straka, the rest of our amazing staff, council members who supported us, and the students who never stopped believing it was possible.
We might be sick of hearing it by now, but this school is truly something special. Our class is often referred to as the guinea pigs, but being the first class just means we’ve had the amazing opportunity to influence this school for future generations. We have come of age in an environment where we can be leaders, and I think that has inspired us in so many ways. There are a lot of things in the world we can’t change, but helping New West evolve gave us the hope that we could always strive for something more. This school is so many things, but it is ours! And even after we graduate, it will still be ours. That may be the ‘self-obsessed Millennial’ talking but we have truly left our mark on this school.
When I think about the spectacular journey we’ve all been on together, I sometimes think about the very beginning – back to the first day of sixth grade. Except, for me, my first day of sixth grade was actually the second day of school. My parents mixed up the dates, for some odd reason. (Later they might be mad at me for throwing them under the bus, so sorry Mom and Dad, I love you) So I arrived on the second day of school, already very anxious about the start of this new chapter of my life, and now the fear was doubled. In my eleven year old mind, I was thinking, “Everyone is already best friends, I am going to have nowhere to sit at lunch, and basically my life is over.” Typical melodramatic middle school stuff. And it might be more of a typical graduation speech if I said that my first day was the most spectacular experience, I was welcomed with open arms, and I made friends with people that I’m still close with today. But that wouldn’t be true. Sixth and seventh grade were kind of hard, and I think most of us remember that twelve year olds can be awful. But things change, I found a group of friends that I cared about, and I think most of us did too. I, for one, am glad to say that I have changed some things about myself since sixth grade. Eleven year old Nicole definitely would not have the courage to stand up here and address you all on this very important day, but I’m glad she’s not here.
I had to do some thinking about our future when I was actually given the prompt for this speech. The question I had to answer was, “What is the world’s most vexing problem, and what can our generation do to help solve it?” And as soon as I received the question, I thought, oh no, I have to write an essay about climate change, and Mrs. Ruesler has already done a pretty good job of explaining all about that. So then I started thinking, now I have to choose something else. And it took me a while, but the world’s most vexing problem came to me when I saw someone drop a ton of change on the floor of the Coffee Bean. Everyone in the cafe stared at her, but no one moved to help. And I believe the world’s most vexing problem is the lack of human empathy.
If you think about it, so many of the world’s conflicts stem from people not understanding one another, or not wanting to! Wars are fought over religion because people can’t comprehend that someone can worship a different God, or pray a different way. They don’t realize that they’re both fighting for the same thing, and that coexisting is the better option for everyone. Legislators have denied the LGBT community rights for centuries because they don’t understand that those people are just expressing their love in a slightly different way than they’re accustomed to. Racism exists because people can’t fathom that one skin color, culture, or ethnicity doesn’t make someone worth less than you. We’re all people with ambitions, hopes, and dreams that matter. Matter to ourselves, matter to the people around us. But we seem to have forgotten that. Or maybe we’ve just stopped caring. Is everyone too wrapped up in technology, or have our materialist values consumed our every waking moment? I think it’s because it’s simply easier not to care that much about other people. I mean, think about the amount of good, close friends you have. That number can’t be too large, because devoting all that time and energy into so many people would be exhausting right? Is that what keeps us from connecting with other people? Laziness? Well, think of it this way. If everyone empathized with everyone else, even just a little bit, the world would be a vastly different place. People wouldn’t need to steal to keep themselves from going hungry, because the human capacity for giving would be exponentially increased. Rates of assault, rape, or murder would shrink overnight, because everyone has a connection with one another. Imagine having a sense of community, with every person you encountered. That is the power of empathy.
So, after I answered that, I had to address ‘what our generation was going to do about it.’ My first thought was- blind them with platitudes! Everyone loves a good cliche. But I – is it ok to say I don’t know how to instill a sense of empathy in every person on the planet? My suggestion would be – start small, and pay it forward. But, would that work on a grand scale? We’re all seventeen, eighteen year olds. How are we supposed to know how to fix the world’s most vexing problem, when our esteemed leaders and diplomats struggle to make peace even after studying international relations? So, what I’m trying to say is, I can stand here and tell you a bunch of cliches about how to save the world or I can be honest and say that I don’t really know. And I think that’s ok. I think for us to fix the problem of human empathy, we have to accept each other, but we also have to be ok with ourselves and forgive ourselves when we don’t know the answer, or we don’t like what we see in the mirror.
So how about this. Everyone goes home today, they celebrate their accomplishment, eat some good food, spend time with family and friends, and then you think for a few minutes about how we can increase the amount of human empathy. How do you think we can solve the world’s most vexing problem? Is that a cop out? Maybe a little bit! But who knows, in this audience, we may have the next President of the United States, UN Ambassador, or Secretary of State, and you may have a much better solution than I do. Now the pressure’s on you. Maybe we can all think of something together. Because like I said, the future of the world is kind of in our hands.
We are at such an essential point in human history where we can choose between redefining and reshaping American culture into something that can be more accepting and inclusive, or we can go back in time and one by one strip away the rights that people have lived and fought and died to earn. To avoid this, we need to have empathy. Also, we need to vote. This is the first time that any of us will be able to vote in a general election, and the importance of our next president cannot be overstated. The young demographic consistently underperforms at the polls, with the lowest turnout of any other age range. We have the power to make our voices heard, so let’s use it! There are quite a few people that are unhappy with the probable candidates on the ballot in November, and these people are saying, “I’m not going to vote, they both suck, I don’t care anymore.” And that is the attitude that is going to run this country into the ground. By not voting, you’re relinquishing your power to make a change, and that is the worst thing you could do. Let’s prove everyone wrong, and tell them that the ‘self-involved’ Millenials care about the world around us, and we take advantage of the incredible responsibility of electing the people that run our country.
Let’s show society that we can become more empathetic and change the world. Once we all band together and prove that we have the capacity to care about others, we can be unstoppable. Empathizing with one another is the key to true equality, and it is the only way our society can truly progress.
If we can do this, we can do anything. This is just the beginning.
Once again, congratulations to the Class of 2016, and thank you so much for this opportunity!
Class of 2016 Valedictorian
Class of 2016 Valedictorian
Congratulations to the class of 2016! We made it. Despite all the obstacles in our way, all the Mrs. Everett essays, all the chemistry labs, we are going to graduate. However, I’d like to open up by talking about something bigger than us graduating. There are lots of pressing problems in the world. World hunger, poverty, terrorism, the list goes on. However, there’s one problem that is at the root of them all: stagnancy. A lot of problems start with the refusal to change. Refusal to change ideas or values about a group of people is something that unfortunately happens too much in our society. Prejudices against minorities, same-sex couples, and those in poverty-ridden situations exist all around us. People refuse to shift their ideals and are constantly afraid of the idea of change. Even at this moment there are those stagnantly staring into the distance, already bored with this speech. However, there’s one place I can proudly say is always changing – New West.
New West is someplace I can safely call my home. Like many of my peers, I’ve been at New West since I was in 6th grade. I’ve always been shy and going to middle school seemed like a daunting task at the time. However, New West made that transition seamless. Ms. B, Ms. A, and Mr. Straka are just a few of the teachers who made middle school not such a frightening experience for us all. The teachers here have always encouraged us to try new things and to not be complacent with the status quo. Not once have I ever been told not to try an idea and have had my creativity limited. As a result, we have some of the greatest innovators in our graduating class. I’m sure everyone remembers voting for our school president and electing Tristan, who wanted to give us a roof-top gym. Although we didn’t get the gym, I’d like to think that we were proactive in trying to bring about positive change to our school. Or maybe we were just some gullible 6th graders who believed in a ridiculous idea. I really hope it was the former.
And then there was the day we were all at the auditorium and Dr. Weir was delivering the big news: New West was going to open up a high school. I don’t remember much else from that day besides the uproar that occurred after that announcement. Parents and students all cheering and excited for something they had all dreamed of. As much as we were all ecstatic, there was a long road ahead. We were judged heavily by those who opposed us. Many didn’t want New West to open up a high school in the West LA area. I’m sure all of us remember the neighbors protesting with their orange signs. They had the impression that we were just a bunch of loudmouth, troublemaking kids. We then had that court hearing to truly see if we would have the school. We had an enormous showing and many students came to see Jared and Kristi give some of the best speeches to allow New West to open its doors.
However, there was still a lot to be done. Starting a high school is tough and I’d like to thank the administration for doing their best to make a “normal” high school. But New West is not normal. I can’t think of any other school who has gone through as much change as ours. From entering the building on the first day, all we could see were empty halls and empty walls. Now, all the walls are filled with portraits, posters and amazing student works, while all the halls are filled with hundreds of optimistic students. We’ve created amazing things. We started out with intramural sports and who could forget the final kickball game between the teachers and the students – I still think they cheated. This quickly transitioned into a full-fledged sports program including basketball, volleyball, soccer, cross country, and a soon to be baseball team. We’ve created numerous clubs, including Red Cross, Asian Culture Club, Girls Who Code, and Model United Nations. Instead of remaining stagnant, we have continued to grow our little community. We could have simply accepted that we had no AP’s, a parking lot as our yard, and limited supplies, but we didn’t – we grew stronger and changed.
Now, near the end, we are getting ready to enter the unknown – college. Looking at all the college acceptances, we’ve truly surpassed all expectations. The class of 2016 was accepted into great schools, both in the U.S and internationally. Unfortunately, our time at New West is coming to a close, but that is just part of the change that is at the essence of our community. We have continuously grown from our time as little wide-eyed 6th graders to our remaining time as leading seniors – honestly we’ve been seniors for the last five years. Being the first graduating class, we have set the foundation for the future of New West. I am confident that the path we have laid out is a good one. Time and time again, we have had to venture out into the unknown. Once again we will have to make that transition into an unknown environment. However, I know that we will go on to do great things in college and bring about change to the communities that we all find ourselves in. If we maintain the same proactive attitude that we have held since day one, anything is possible. I am certain that wherever we end up, we will always bring about positive change to our surroundings. Ultimately, I’m proud to say that New West isn’t scared of change – but rather embraces it. On behalf of all the seniors at New West, I would like to thank Dr. Weir, Mr. Straka, all the amazing teachers, and the administration for helping us get here. Go Eagles!
Class of 2016 Valedictorian