Elected by her class as the 2019 Senior Commencement Speaker, Josie DeRonja '19 delivered the following address at Saint Mary's Commencement Exercises on May 19, 2019.
Good morning everyone. I want to start by saying thank you to my class for giving me the opportunity to be your commencement speaker. The way that each of you have supported me through the past few years means the world to me, and I hope this speech will demonstrate my gratitude for you and my love for our class. I also want to say thank you to the faculty, staff, underclasswomen, girls who previously graduated, and families that have supported us through our time at Saint Mary's. We would not have made it to today without your guidance and love.
Let me begin with a short story about my skills as a weather forecaster. Anyone who has spent any time with me right before an impending weather event like a snow storm or hurricane knows that I am always on top of the latest weather report and predictions. I am no meteorologist, but my one claim to fame could be that I predicted the hurricane that canceled fall formal three months in advance.
I was at the pool the summer before sophomore year with Janie. We were casually chatting about the upcoming school year and Janie said, "Hey Josie, did you hear that we are having a fall formal this year instead of a winter formal so the dance can't be canceled by snow?" I had not heard about this and my immediate reaction was, "Well the dance is just going to be canceled by a hurricane!" And sure enough, a few months later a hurricane hit Raleigh the weekend of Fall Formal, and cancelled the dance.
Although I did predict a significant weather event that one time, my intuition for predicting other future events is pretty much nonexistent. I know that I cannot accurately predict what happens in life because there is no way I could have foreseen who I would be at the end of high school or the trajectory and ultimate outcome of the class of 2019. I know that I am very different from my freshman self, and many of you can probably relate to this sentiment. Freshman year, I was extremely quiet, my sewing machine was at home, not at school, I was not on SGA, I did not religiously go to the library every night during study hall, but the makings of who I am today were there. At the beginning of freshman year, everyone wrote letters to their senior selves. This week I opened mine, and one line stood out to me. I wrote, "Where are you going to college? Maybe Duke?" Well freshman Josie, you are not going there, but because you never let go of your ambition, you are going to Georgia Tech. Through your time at Saint Mary's, you will discover that you are a future engineer and that school is what you should have been dreaming of all along.
The story of my change from freshman to senior-year self is not the same as any other member in my class, but my story of finding my passion, becoming more self confident, and developing a generosity with my talents connects me to my class. Saint Mary's gave us an opportunity to each grow in this way. Even though our class is small with only 61 members, we still are an eclectic bunch. The class of 2019 has K-Pop stars, future Broadway actresses, fashion bloggers, competitive athletes, prefects who are leaders in every dorm, political activists, dancers, artists, writers, scientists, and the list could go on. I love the class of 2019 because everyone has a different gift that they have grown into expressing more outwardly or discovered during their time here. Our decision to give these talents back to the school has defined our class and allowed us to make Saint Mary's a better place.
We began our time at Saint Mary's with iconic roommate pairings, Penick dorm drama, and balancing new friendships with old ones. Since then our class has become a more unified and passionate group. This year the boarders, and even a few day students, made the decision to stay on campus during the hurricanes and spend time together. We planned a senior day around making the day fun for the rest of the school. We are finishing as a class that is outspoken, pushes boundaries, advocates for ourselves, and makes a constant effort to positively impact younger Saint Mary's girls. Our class is dramatic and emotional, so growth has not always come easily. Learning through trials has only made us stronger. As new girls who entered after freshman year became beloved members of our class, and as our spirit has changed, our class has had a positive transformation that I never would have predicted. We have accomplished a lot, and have grown a lot and should be proud, but we should also be thankful - thankful for the adults and members of this community have led us and supported our growth; and thankful that Saint Mary's is a place that facilitated this growth. It is pretty special to go to a high school where you can sleep over in the library, know your teachers' families, always have friends around, enjoy Jackie cake, and have the support to explore whatever you heart desires.
Underclasswomen, let Saint Mary's and the other members of your class shape you. This is your place to explore, to be curious, and to learn so you can grow into who you want to be. Growing into one's future is possible. Predicting one's future is impossible so do not become fixated on one dream. Choose to be ambitious. Cultivate your passions. Confidently express your inner spirit. If you do these things you will discover passions that will change you and lead you on a path you could not have predicted. And Class of 2019, as we go to college, we must also embrace every new opportunity for growth like we have done at Saint Mary's. It's fun to guess about how our lives will unfold, but as you have experienced as a member of the Class of 2019, you never know what the weather will bring. Both figuratively and literally.
In Rihanna's song Umbrella, a song from our awesome dance-off performance this year, she sings, "When the sun shines, we shine together," and "You can stand under my umbrella." Our class has learned to shine together and give our talents to the school even when "it's raining, raining." I want to congratulate our class for accomplishing this because where we are now is so much farther ahead from where we started. Even though we are leaving Saint Mary's today "I know that we still have each other," and for that I am very thankful.