Paige Stevenson, valedictorian for the Class of 2019, delivered the following remarks during the Saint Mary's School Commencement Exercises on May 19, 2019:
Good morning, everyone. I cannot express how humbled I am to have the opportunity to address all of you, and I would not be here if it were not for all of Saint Mary's faculty, staff, administration, my family, my friends, and everyone assembled here today. It's you , the teachers and groundskeepers and behind-the-scenes magicians, who are the heart and soul of Saint Mary's. I think Aldert the Raven on Smedes behind me will forgive me for saying that the pretty campus is nice and all, but it's really the people who define the gifts of Saint Mary's. Finally, Class of 2019, please take a moment to glance at the young women seated to your left and to your right. Each of you were essential in our collective success that propelled us here, whether it was because you offered help in a class or left some much-needed snacks on the ATP desk one day. To all of you, thank you, 177 times over.
My career at Saint Mary's ended the same way it began: with physical injury. On my first day back in the 9th grade, I shakily entered the building code into the back doors of Smedes and leapt for the handle, only to realize too late that the doors were, in fact, automatic. Smedes was so ready to accept and embrace me that the doors swung open for an enthusiastic hug and whapped me in the nose - my first nosebleed of high school. To travel forward in time about three and a half years, I continued my habit of not paying attention to potential hazards and stabbed myself in the hand in chemistry lab. Y'see, I really wanted to remember my senior year, and a t-shirt just wasn't going to cut it- I wanted something more, ehm, permanent and decided that a surgical scar from the procedure to repair the nerve I severed was the best was to emblazon my Saint Mary's experience on myself forever.
Have I learned something from my various mishaps? Ehhh, no . I'll probably still be clumsy and dangerous next year. But what I have gleaned from all this is that the strength of our class comes from two things: resilience and perseverance. As a grade, we've been through a lot. I could talk about the endless list of cancelled or rescheduled dances, but what about this year, when we were faced with a new schedule and the new expectation to complete a capstone or internship? (We didn't see that one coming.) Not every class can say that their entire program was overhauled in the year that they also had college applications to deal with. If I can brag for a moment (and hey, this is graduation. We've all got something to brag about), our class of 2019 has conquered these changes. We adapted to our schedule in stride and completed some pretty cool capstones and internships. We still showed up for what dances we got. We pounced back from every change with more vigor and courage than we'd had before. No obstacle could stop us - we have more power than the Cheshire water fountain, and just like that fountain, you bet we're gonna overshoot all expectations of us.
Such challenges have reinforced our confidence, our ambition, and our wit. Those of you who have had a class with me know that I'm not the most, uh, vocal, and that when I do feel inspired to squeak some comment out, I often sound like a more timid version of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice . However quiet I seem now, back in middle school, I think my class participation grades were labeled "not turned in." We were the last class to be forced to - oh, I'm sorry, have the opportunity to give Junior Speeches, and had it not been for that petrifying experience, I would probably be hiding under my chair right now instead of addressing you. Man, those speeches took perseverance. Whether it was your speech advisor shredding your first draft or the customary Pittman technical difficulties, you needed some serious courage to get through that, and I am so proud of every graduate for forging through. I took several lessons from that program. One, that I needed to take AP Physics to be able to calculate how far my jokes will fly before they crash into the ground. And two, that I am capable of speaking to an audience larger than, well, my cat.
Whatever courage I have now, I earned from Saint Mary's. The school's ability to lead students to the edge of their range of comfort and say, "You've got this," is irreplaceable. We can laugh about those posters on the elevators at North Hills, but the motto is true. This place breeds strength , and there are no better poster-children (literally and figuratively) for resilience than our class of 2019.
If you don't mind the neck exercises, Class of '19, please turn back to the people sitting around you. Some of us are going far, across national borders or across time zones. Others are strolling down the street. Some of us will become the next generation of researchers, engineers, doctors. Others I will see promoted in the Guggenheim, perhaps, or on Broadway, or Spotify, or with their name em boss ed on a book in our own Kenan Library. We might have grand plans to do one thing and end up somewhere else entirely, and y'know, we're gonna thrive every where and any where simply because we have the determination to do so.
This class will go down in history not as the class with the cancelled dances or the guinea pigs for the capstone program, but as the class with the bravery to tackle every obstacle and twist that life tossed in our way. In the words of Stephen Hawking (who of course I had to quote) , "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change."
Once again, thank you . All of you. Congratulations on having surged through high school, and I'm looking forward to watching you guys renovate the world, even if we could never renovate Holt. Thanks.