In his Valedictorian Address, Noah Levine urges his fellow graduates to find passion and make every effort to be more than a number. The remaining post is a copy of his Valedictorian address.
There are over 3,200 high schools in Canada with more than 300,000 graduates. That’s 22,400 swaggering jocks, 19,200 harmonizing altos humored by 12,600 class clowns. All listening to 3,200 generic speeches from 3,200 valedictorians. To put it into terms a Crestwood student can identify with, that is 3,200 Canada Goose jackets, 19,200 pairs of Uggs, with 231,574 dollars worth of Menchies.
But ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Pagano, teachers, esteemed guests, families and fellow graduates, there are just seventy proud and dedicated graduates from Crestwood Preparatory College. Though a mere seventy students seems negligible, it’s these seventy students who survived this roller coaster called high school and came out successful on the other side. Seventy students who dealt with stress and setback, but danced it off. Seventy students who have made bonds, not just molecular or ionic, who have learned more than just chemistry or physics. Thirty classes of, “When will I ever use any of this in real life?” Eight semesters of, “Could this get any worse?” Four years of high school we thought would never end. One ceremony where we realized that it did, and that those years actually did mean something to us.
I have attended Crestwood since senior kindergarten. This is the only school I know, for better or worse. In grade 1, Crestwood saw me as an aspiring astronaut, who wanted to be the first person to walk on the sun. In grade 3, Crestwood challenged me to become the very best, like no one ever was, as an aspiring Pokémon master. In grade 4, Crestwood gave me a pat on the back when I had to face the inconvenient truth that Pokémon is not real. It was there in grade 7 when my voice started to crack and in grade 8, Crestwood gave me a Sham-Wow to wipe away the sweat caused by my awkward perspiration problem.
In high school, Crestwood put us to the ultimate test. Crestwood put us in a sea of academic turbulence while struggling to find our place in the social survival of the fittest euphemized as high school. And I am proud to say that all of us have come out on top. I know that each and every student here has been through their own unique passage and has grown from the person they were when they first walked into the halls of Crestwood Preparatory College, to the people they will be when they walk out today. Although there are many defining moments in a student’s high school career that influence their outlook on the future, one in particular stands out for me.
It was in our last calculus class of the year. Our teacher, Mr. Sunderland, had prepared a presentation called ‘Sundy’s Words of Wisdom’. He told us to stay curious, find something we like and stick to it because at the end of the day, the money we earn is worth not worth as much if there is no value associated with it. But I don’t think it was what he said that made me think, as much as how he said it. Many of you that know Mr. Sunderland’s voice is absolutely mesmerizing. And with that voice, he spoke honestly and passionately about his love for the universe and for teaching. And whatever I do in life, no matter what it is, I want to do it with as much passion as he preaches. It’s Mr. Podlovics’ sense of deprecating humour that makes us realize how important it is to be able to take a joke, or Ms. Williams’ mix of kindness and austerity that really makes you believe that there is method to madness. Ms. Bryant’s love for literature that almost doesn’t make us want to gauge out our eyes every time we hear the name Shakespeare. It’s the gym teachers who always try to shine a humorous light on things to make us realize not to take life too seriously, and how great life can be when spent only wearing Under Armour tracksuits.
It’s all the teachers, too many to name, and not necessarily the course curriculum, that dictates the way we see ourselves as adults and how we can better ourselves as we go to university.
And now, it’s time for my own ‘words of wisdom.’ It is important to be realistic. Please, don’t take this the wrong way, but in the eyes of Queen’s, or Western, or Harvard, or Everest, there is not much that separates you from the person sitting next to you. At least right now, we are just names. We are just an application of two essays and a bullet-point list of what we have done. We are names being crossed and checked against thousands of applicants. We are student numbers. We are residence plans. We are just names. And despite the assurance of a corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice man Mr. Rogers, Dr. Seuss or Lady Gaga, there is no guarantee of success. Although Crestwood has given us to tools needed to become more than just names, if we want to be competent citizens beyond these walls it is up to us to become them. But, how?
If there is one thing that my inspiring teachers and wonderful friends have instilled in me it is to do whatever you do not because you have to, but because you are passionate. Learn for the love of learning, not because you will be evaluated on it. Be more than a robotic bookshelf programmed to spew out knowledge, whose circuitry demands we get a degree, then a masters, then a job according to the industry approved placation. Put yourselves in a place that will allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it and demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this because it will be on the test” is not good enough for you.
Also, do things under the motivation to please yourself, and not others, because if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
But at the same time, resist the easy comforts of complacency, the blinding glitter of materialism and the narcotic that is self worth. Be confident in yourself without becoming engulfed with yourself, because if you aren’t for yourself, then who is? But if you are only for yourself, then what are you? It is only then we can fulfill our potential, where we can yield the word worth, because we have something meaningful to sell, because we are happy with what we do. Just like Sundy taught us.
Finally, remember to learn and be thankful. Be thankful for your family, because if it weren’t for your parental caped crusaders picking you up from your lowest points, you would not be here. And no, that’s not some stupid platitude. My family is my safety net. I know that is true for all of us. They give us perspective to see beyond high school; they are the ones that give us a big hug that can cure even the deepest sadness. And when they say, “Everything will be okay,” we can’t help but believe them. And five years ago, one of my sisters stood in the exact same spot as valedictorian. And although so much has changed since then, their ability to put up with a nuisance like me still goes unparalleled. I hope to follow their example and remain optimistic even during tough times. So, mom and dad, Sarah and Rebecca, I am so unbelievably thankful for everything you do for me. I can never repay you. And I know that all my fellow graduates here owe so much to their families.
In the wise words of philosopher, scholar and lyrical genius Drizzy Drake, we started from the bottom, and now we here. But this is not as much of an end as it is a beginning. The time has finally come. After we walk out these gym doors, we will be left to take on the next chapter in our lives. And it will be tough. But remember you are not in it alone. Remember to love. Love learning; love your family, your friends and whatever you do in life. So that way, you can stay passionate and become more than just a name. Thank you.
– Noah Levine