The most valuable gift: Saint Mary's never held me back
Amber Morse '18

Good morning everyone. I would like to start off with how humbled I am to be standing in front of you today, and I am grateful to my class for giving me this opportunity. As a short aside, I'd like to take this time thank faculty, staff, underclasswomen, parents, and families, because behind every graduate in the class of '18 is a multitude of great people who helped her get this far. Graduates, let's give them a big round of applause.

For this speech, I did a lot of research because I wanted to make this really great for you all. The class of 2018 deserves that. To let you know my process, I read through past Saint Mary's commencement speeches, I watched highschool speakers from across the country on youtube, and most importantly, I studied in depth the inspirational graduation speech of High School Musical 3 protagonist, Troy Bolton.

His one-minute speech features topics like the status quo, creme brulee, and is set to inspiring vocals in the background. I regret to inform you that my speech will have no soundtrack, and will contain none of these topics. Before I stepped foot onto campus, my perception of high school was primarily the result of watching the High School Musical movies. Based on them, I was sure that there would be strict teachers, a cutthroat competitive environment, and if I was lucky, bouts of spontaneous song and dance in the cafeteria.

By this standard, Saint Mary's has not given me the true high school experience. Though spontaneous song and dance can be found in Chan-Poyner dining hall during Christmas time when the deluxe version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" plays through the loudspeakers, I did not endure any other secondary school, typical drama that High School Musical prepared me for. My teachers are not overly strict because they trust us, and toxic competition is not rampant because girls here believe in one another and support each other's success.

After this reflection, it began to dawn upon me that these movies were not to be trusted.

I realized this when I remembered that the other protagonist, Gabriella, was dedicated to theatre and simultaneously the valedictorian of her school. This was a red flag because after working on seven consecutive Saint Mary's School theatre productions, I think I am qualified to say that it is physically impossible to maintain a perfect GPA under the conditions of high school theatre performances. If High School Musical was wrong, what is high school really?

I'll tell you what I think: high school has been the place where we can comfortably try anything. Thanks to Saint Mary's I have learned that I love to dance hip hop, I can survive in the mountains of North Carolina for four days with a large backpack and seven of my fellow classmates, I can write a five-page paper in one night with only one can of Starbucks double-shot espresso, and that I do not enjoy being pegged with lacrosse balls every afternoon. Shout out to the lacrosse team my freshman year for which I was honored to be the goalkeeper, though I quit after one trimester.

High school is a great time to learn what makes us happy, because there is so much to do, and so much time to do it. To the underclasswomen here today, take every opportunity you can get so that you can experience all that this school and the world has to offer.

The most valuable gift Saint Mary's has given me is that it never held me back. It never said, stop, Amber, that's a crazy idea that could lead to failure - and trust me, there have been many of these ideas. And no, that's not out of negligence; it's a belief that if we never hold our girls back, they will do unique and amazing things. At the same time, if we do fail, Saint Mary's School understands that these mistakes help us grow. It's because of this belief that I am confident that any woman graduating today will never be discouraged from pursuing her passions to the fullest. Our class is full of athletes, artists, singers, dancers, leaders, musicians, entrepreneurs, scientists, inventors, friends, trendsetters, and advocates - maybe all at once. These young women are all of these things because they know there's nothing they can't be or do.

Now, I'll be honest with you class of 2018. If you haven't realized it by now, today we're going to graduate. There will be some Instagram posts captioned with Drake lyrics, or maybe if you're more of a visual person, the raised hands emoji followed by the graduation cap emoji. And in the end, it might seem a bit anticlimactic. To some, in our minds, we have already graduated high school and are simply waiting for the paper to prove it. But there is something special in our gathering one last time. We have a unique shared experience that is more indicative of our time here than any other factors. We've had two canceled dances, we've all had the joy of chicken tender day at the dining hall. We've all felt the gentle spring breeze in the quad after a long day of classes, and we've all been in a state of relief following panic when accessing our ACT or SAT scores. We've all eaten our fair share of Jackie cake. And we've been there for each other in our moments of disappointment and triumph during college acceptance season. And most importantly, we've all been together long enough to understand the true meaning of sisterhood. And though High School Musical was not accurate in defining our times at Saint Mary's, in the end, we truly were 'all in this together.' I am so proud to be part of this class, and though I will miss you all, I am so excited to see what you all will do in the future. Congratulations.

For more about Commencement 2018 at Saint Mary's School, click here.