2017 Valedictorian’s Remarks



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Kai McNamee

Kai McNamee

Class of 2017 Salutatorian

Good afternoon and welcome. Hardworking administrators, dedicated teachers, proud family members, and burnt out high school seniors before me, thank you. It is with great honor I deliver this address.

On behalf of the Class of 2017, I’d like to express a sincere appreciation to all those who helped us get where we are today. Without the unwavering support of our families, friends, teachers, and mentors, there’s no way we could have survived this long. You’ve helped us through times of difficulty, whether academic or personal, advised us in our hours of uncertainty, and, most importantly, done countless loads of laundry on our behalves. Behind every student here is a network of supportive individuals; this day is as much theirs as it is ours.

When I think of my time at New West, one thing stands out, and no matter how many times you’ve heard it echoed by Dr. Weir and Mr. Herrera, New West truly is a family. Most of the time it’s home, but sometimes you hate it and want to run away. At the end of eighth grade at New West, I did just that.

I vividly remember my first day of ninth grade—that is my first first day of ninth grade, when I started my high school career somewhere other than New West, at a lesser school. I won’t tell you which school it was, but it was Venice High. I was alone and scared as I wandered the grimey, yellow halls on that day. My classes were huge and impersonal, and after the first legitimate fire evacuation, I knew it was time to come home.

On my second first day of ninth grade, I walked onto New West’s campus feeling much of the same loneliness and fear. Most of my friends had left to attend that other school I was talking about, the one with the grimey, yellow halls, impersonal classes, fires, etc. But in the first few moments, that feeling of loneliness was overwhelmed by a sense of belonging. At the end of the hall was Mr. Straka, arms wide, smiling and repeating the words: “My babies are home, my babies are all coming home.”

There are a lot of things I could talk about to communicate the uniqueness of New West and the Class of 2017—the educational opportunities, the academic successes, Cole Grodnitzky—but that feeling I mentioned earlier, that feeling of belonging I experienced on my second first day of high school, I think that’s what I’ll remember most, more than the classes, the field trips, the personal online portfolios we all love so dearly, or the dread of showing up to Ms. Everett’s class to see the words “quiz/ discussion” on the board. Whether I was standing with my friends in the yard or killing time after a math lesson, that feeling followed me throughout my time here. For the last four years, thanks to every one of you in the audience today, New West has been home.

Looking back on those four years, it seems like a blur. It feels like just yesterday we were all the clueless freshman. Sporting backpacks loaded with pencils, sushi shaped erasers, and meticulously labeled binders, we were optimistic and eager. Our journeys had just begun, and graduation seemed infinitely far away. By sophomore year, we were used to the day to day grind. We had figured out how to get away with not wearing New West polos, and we’d become well acquainted with Sparknotes and Shmoop. A year later, we were juniors; college applications were right around the corner, and life after high school was closer than ever. And now we’re here, seniors ready—or at least somewhat ready—to graduate and move on to the next chapters of our lives. We’re all on the cusp of adulthood and nearing the end of adolescence.

It’s strange to think that we’ve come so far in a paradoxically short amount of time. In the middle of your fourth period class, time moved agonizingly slowly. One revolution of the minute hand may have felt like three hours. But somehow, 35,040 of those hours passed in the blink of an eye, an eternity compressed into four impossibly short years. It’s hard to shake that feeling, that deep churning in your stomach when it hits you, when you realize you’re coming to the close of something big, something meaningful.

As an 18 year-old now freshly out of high school, I don’t think I’m qualified to dispense any kind of sagely wisdom, but here it is anyway. Remember that the hours pass slowly, and the years go by quickly. So cherish the agonizingly slow moments. Take in your surroundings; remember the faces around you; appreciate this weird shade of green that you’ll probably never have to wear again after today. Because ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, when we’re all busy achieving whatever great things we dream of, June 10th will feel like it was just yesterday.

Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2017.

Kai McNamee
Class of 2017 Salutatorian


Austin Pruitt

Austin Pruitt

Class of 2017 Valedictorian

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for joining us here today to celebrate the graduation of New West Charter School’s class of 2017! Thank you to all the parents, students, staff, and faculty who tolerated us teenagers for all four years of high school to make this exact day possible. As the second graduating class, it is our job to ensure a great future not only for ourselves, but for our school, community, and others as well. While the chapter of high school is coming to a close in our books, a new one is just beginning, whether that be college, a gap year, the workforce, or whatever else may come our way. And with these new beginnings will come amazing opportunities and arduous challenges, for both of which we must prepare. But first, I have to take it back to day one.

I stepped onto New West’s Pico campus as a timid 6th grader, wearing a too-big green polo shirt and carrying what felt like a 20lb backpack that dangled below the backs of my knees. With downward looking eyes and laconic speech, I avoided connection as much as possible. I wanted to return to the familiar world from which I had come. I wanted to hide in my shell, scared that I was the only person at New West who had the cheese touch, the only one who was a social outcast unlike his peers.

But after my first hour of sitting in that tiny black chair in Ms. B’s checker-floored room, I realized that us 6th graders were all in the same situation: we all came from different schools, different areas of Los Angeles, nervous to embark on a new and unknown journey. We all wanted to refuse the call to action; crossing the threshold seemed like a death sentence. The funny thing is, though, is that it was everything but.

I noticed that, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by kids who genuinely wanted to learn and thrive in a scholastic environment. We supported each other in not only our friendships, but in the furthering of each other’s ideas, aspirations, and capabilities. Although many of us didn’t know it back then, our opportunity to attend one of the best schools in California was one that changed our lives forever.

Then came high school. Like Kai, I tried out what I thought to be a “real high school experience” at the beginning of my freshmen year because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on who knows what. But, to my disappointment, I was met with complacent students, monotonous textbook assignments, and inaccessible teachers— they didn’t even know my name after the first month of class! So, after that month was over, I returned to New West, to a community of motivated students and teachers who truly cared for my wellbeing. Coming back to New West after going to my public high school only made me appreciate New West even more, and after my first day back on campus, I never regretted my decision to return home, to the place at which I truly belonged. And it wasn’t just me. Kids who left after middle school came flocking back after attending large public schools and realizing that a “normal high school experience” was not something to worship.

I now find myself surrounded by great minds, both old and new, and am truly grateful for every day I get to spend at a school like New West. Although it may not have a fancy athletic facility or a rooftop gym, it has a personality, vibrancy and a sense of community—the things that make New West all but normal.

As a class, we now stand at the precipice of the future, eager to embark on our own unique, individual journeys. And for the second time in my life, the first being my first day of 6th grade, I am truly scared about what to expect in these coming years. But that should not prevent us from achieving great things.

Our futures are opaque, marred by the nebulousness of adulthood and responsibility. For some of us, it will be our first time paying taxes, living alone, and trying so hard to figure out how to correctly address a letter (yes, a physical, paper letter). For others, our forthcoming years will be comprised of telling your job interviewer that your biggest weakness is that you’re a perfectionist and getting mad at your roommate for not folding the laundry even though it was his turn. And for the lucky few who will undertake the treacherous journey of a gap year, have fun sunbathing in the Caribbean while others are pulling their hair out over their resumes and drinking 12 cups of coffee a day to get through finals week.

But, on a more serious note to anyone taking a gap year, be productive and represent New West well. Make us proud. You few have a unique opportunity to search the world and its resources in order to find your passions and discover your goals. Spend a week surveying the coast of Monterey and collecting data on its sea life. Go on a trip to Guatemala with Habitats for Humanity to help build shelters for the poor. Visit Italy to learn about the intricacies of the Roman Catholic Church. You can even join an activist group as a volunteer to protest Trump for cancelling U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord. In one sentence, my point is this: make sure to thrive on your year off, wherever it may take you.

To those who are going into the workforce: show us what you got. Walk into that job interview with a determined attitude. Show us that you are ready for anything and everything that comes your way. Be diligent and make educated choices (that means not spending all of your disposable income on fidget spinners and Starbucks). Instead, devote a portion of your paycheck toward saving for your future and make sure that you will be able to pay for your share of the rent when it’s that time of the month. Begin your time in the workforce as proud New West alumni. Remember what you’ve learned here and pass it onto others.

And, lastly, to those who are starting college come fall: know that you will be successful no matter how hard you will have to push through the next four years. Create everyday goals for yourself and lifelong aspirations. Connect with others. Form meaningful relationships with new friends. Challenge authority to further your own thought process. Found a club that will bring students with similar interests together. Take challenging classes that will force you to push your own limits. Make proactive choices. Become independent (although your mom will appreciate it when you call her in the middle of the night asking where the detergent goes in the washing machine). And, most importantly, do not dwell on the past. College is a new frontier with limitless opportunities; embark on the journey with thoughts of the future.

We, as a generation, stand at the forefront of opportunity; however, at the same time, our generation has been plagued by racial, LGBT and gender inequality along with the reversal of U.S. climate agreements, health care laws, and much more. It is not that these issues have recently emerged, as they have been around for many generations, but it is media that has brought these social and societal problems to the center of debate and disagreement. It is our responsibility, as both a class and as human beings, to tackle these issues in the best ways possible. But, as I am a mere high school senior, I do not have the brain, nor willpower, to find a solution. That is why our class, just as our nation, must come together to collectively discuss and solve these problems.

Although we may be small, I believe that that the 93 students that constitute New West’s second graduating class will have the opportunity to change this world for the better through determination, reason, and hard work. Whichever paths you all choose to take, just make sure to do what you love. Encourage change, fight for what you believe in, and, as always, juxtapose the hegemony.

Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2017!

Austin Pruitt
Class of 2017 Valedictorian