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Valedictorian Speech by John He, SAS Puxi

May, 2012
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Faculty, Family, Friends, Fellow Graduates:

img_1204Here we are, finally, to celebrate our four years at SAS… This is a big day for all of us, without doubt. We’re excited, we’re nostalgic, or eager perhaps for what lies ahead…

And when we think back, we’ll remember Relay or APAC, that class or cause that we cared intensely about. These moments held meaning, and that’s why we’ll remember — why in our minds we will pick out these moments as the defining moments of our high school experience.

But let’s pause — pause, just for a moment, and let’s reflect on the days in between these happy hours. Because as much as we’d like to focus on all the shining memories, we can’t escape from the fact that we did dedicate so much of our last four years to something else entirely. College. Let’s not deceive ourselves, we worked hard and slept late, more often than not because we worried about the grade and not because we loved the class. So much of what we did we treated as a means to that end. Every choice and every opportunity, we viewed and considered through that lens, we approached with the question: will this benefit my college application? We gave up our afterschool hours, our lunches and our breaks and our weekends and summers and winters, and everything in between.

But now that we’re here, ask yourself, was it worth it? Think about the sacrifices you made and what you’ve gained. Was it worth it?

For sure the tenacity and the single-mindedness with which we pursued that target had its benefits. It’s good to have goals. After all, it motivated us to keep going when we were feeling down and lazy. We gained much. It’s what put me in front of this podium today.

But we lost just as much, because for us it wasn’t just a goal merely, it was the purpose of our high school education. No other goal figured as prominently in our lives in the past four years, no other goal was more important. It eclipsed our lives, precluded the development of any real passions or aspirations.

And perhaps at some point we thought about it all and realized the superficiality of a life lived this way, realized perhaps that it was strangely obscene that we ever even thought about spending our entire holiday studying for one standardized test; that we prioritized that over reading a random book we liked or doing something else we loved. But we just kept telling ourselves, it’s temporary, it’s part of the system and we have to do it to succeed, we have to; we told ourselves it’ll be worth it in the end when we get in the college of our choice, and then we’ll be done with it all.

So here we are. We’re in.

Except that we’re not done. We won’t ever reach that horizon. We’ll face the same situation in college that confronted us here. The question will only be if we will continue that mentality thinking, “just four more years, just four more years,” pleasing professors and cramming for exams, telling ourselves again that, then, finally, we’ll be free to pursue our life unbounded by the necessity of worrying about resumes or transcripts.

But this is a treadmill that never stops. Because after college there’s grad school, MBA, med school, law school and after that, you have to get a job, then a better job—everything a stepping-stone to something else, with no end in sight.

So stop, don’t keep charging forward. Starting here, starting now, step off that treadmill.

Now is the moment to finally confront who we are, and where we are heading. Where do the stepping-stones ultimately lead? Money? Fame? Honor? Success? Virtue? Happiness? What does happiness even entail, and how will we get there? …

How will you define your future? This question has never been more urgent than now. And never will be. Because this is the moment that marks our independence; this is the beginning of our adventure. And we cannot meaningfully lead a life, pursue any path, not knowing what we are aiming for. We don’t need to be certain about the specifics of what we’ll study or pursue, but we can’t afford to be uncertain about the core of what we value and seek in life.

No longer can we simply glide over this question, expecting to be carried forward by the current of convention or the expectations of our parents. There are no other paths to follow but our own. And we must stand firm in our resolution to follow this path. Stand firm in our resolution to be who we are regardless of our parent’s objections or the disapprobation of society. Be proud that you are different, and that you’ll be taking a different path than that person sitting in front of you, next to you, behind you—all around you. Our life is ours alone to dictate.

So today we say farewell to high school. Let’s not stumble forward blindly any longer, following the crowd, from college to career. The future holds much in store for us all, Class of 2012, we just need to dive deep within ourselves to find it.


- Valedictorian Speech by John He,

Class of 2012, SAS Puxi

 

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