The following speech was delivered by Prince Charles Secondary School 2012 grad class valedictorian Sierra Harland at the graduation ceremony on June 8:
Good evening, faculty and school district 8 employees, friends, family, and especially the graduating class of 2012.
Graduation scares me…
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the pomp, the traditions, the ceremony, getting dressed up and wearing this cap. And that nearly 1,000 people have come from near and far to celebrate with us tonight. It’s more about what comes after tonight. You know… The part when I have to say goodbye to familiarity, pack my bags and move out.
I’ve been looking forward to this day for as long as I can remember. I hurried through kindergarten — well, kind of. And I rushed to graduate from Grade 7 to the big school. And must admit the past five years at PCSS have passed by more quickly than I could have ever anticipated.
We all do it. Each day we seem to believe that our life will begin tomorrow, that we need to overcome that one obstacle or get to that certain age before we can really start living. But in our attempts to hurry our lives, we somehow forget that life is now. It’s now, whether you’re 18, 30 or 60 and every year between — because what really matters are the moments. It’s the moments, the laughter, the tears and the all the obstacles we encounter that cause us to stop for just one minute and think, “I wish this moment wouldn’t hurry away.” And now, here we are just moments away from the rest of our lives, and all I’m thinking is that I don’t want this day to rush away.
Years ago, Bill Cosby’s son remarked that he would be going home after the graduation ceremony and Bill casually replied, “Oh. So, do you live close by now?” because apparently human beings are the only creatures on Earth that, after leaving, allow their children to come back home. And thank goodness! Because when some of us are starving college students, we’ll be grateful, I’m sure, that we’re always welcome to come back home to mom’s full fridge.
I took a lesson from another commencement speech because it has meaning for all of us and simply because I wanted every graduate to know how to write this sentence truthfully and honestly for the rest of their lives: “I am who I always wanted to be.” And I want to know that when you ask yourself this question at any age and at any point down the road that the answer will be a resounding, “Yes. I am who I always wanted to be.”
I’m prepared to fail, and fail profoundly at some things, because that’s how I learn and that’s how I get better. I am ready to take risks and challenge myself, knowing that the last 17 years have given me the courage, the knowledge and the support to trust myself, my intuition and my ability to capitalize on my failures. We often get so caught up in the failure that we do not recognize the invaluable life lessons that help us become stronger and more equipped to contribute to the world. A well renowned author once said we all will make mistakes — interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make even glorious and fantastic mistakes, and some of us will break rules to do so, and hopefully we all will leave the world more interesting just because we were here. The world doesn’t care just how many times we fail and fall down as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times we get back up.
The graduating class of 2012 recognizes that there are a lot of people we need to thank and acknowledge for the gentle nudges and for the really big pushes that contributed to us gathering here this evening.
Firstly, to our parents and guardians: Thanks. And, Mom and Dad, I know it was tempting at times, but I am eternally grateful for all the last minute change-of-minds and U-turns you made in front of the child exchange depot, instead of swapping me in. I am who I am in part due to your support, your patience and your unconditional belief that I could do anything. Parents, you allowed us to write our own story with the belief and understanding that this next chapter in our lives comes with more responsibility and independence than ever before. You’ve packed our tool kits with the essential life components and now it’s time to let us go. Because of this, I am confident we all can make it!
And to our teachers, administrators and support staff: We too, owe you a debt of gratitude. I have learned patience, perseverance and the ability to dust myself off, pick up the pieces and move forward. Thirteen years of public education have taught us more than we could have ever expected. This may be the last time we see our teachers’ smiling faces. Actually, that’s probably why you’re all smiling.
Now, my fellow graduates, look how far we’ve come. We’ve come to the end of just the first journey our lives have taken us on. And what a long journey it has been. It seems like ages ago since Grade 8, when the only friends we had were confined to the 25 kids in our “pods”. Since then, we’ve not only expanded our social horizons, whether that was by coming out of your shell at school or gaining 200 more Facebook friends, but we’ve learned one valuable piece of advice, that “hallways are for walking.” We’ve all grown together. We’ve laughed, played, cried and partied together. And today we celebrate together.
For those of us who were born and raised here, and for those of you who joined the Class of 2012 along the way, you know that our community has also helped to make us better citizens, better equipped to appreciate our small town and the benefits of being raised in rural British Columbia. I am looking forward to the lights and sights of the big city and what the rest of the world can offer, but will always be grateful for the lessons learned in this small town.
I was scared that my words today weren’t going to be motivational enough, inspirational enough. All I really want is for someone to feel something from my speech. I’d like to take a moment… to ask something of you. I ask that, everyone here, raise your right hand. Now on the count of three, place it on the shoulder of the person next to you. 1-2-3. OK, you can remove your hands. Now I can officially say the audience has been touched by my speech.
So, graduates, it’s time for us to forge new paths, which will lead us in all different directions imaginable. They may lead us to our doctorates and PhDs, to the top of law firms or to Shady Acres Trailer Park. But wherever they lead to, never limit yourself from the endless opportunities that are out there. Whichever path we choose, they all take us on the worthwhile journey of life, and all we can hope is that one day they’ll lead us back to the warmth and security of our humble hometown, Creston.
I want to share with you my favourite quote, a quote by Winston Churchill: “Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.” Today is just one beginning among a series of beginnings, and after we end high school, we start fresh. Grads, we have nothing holding us back; only our dreams and conviction pushing us forward. The world doesn’t owe you anything. So go out there and work for what you want. Fall down and get back up. Embrace the past, be grateful for it, learn from it and move on. Be the person you’ve always wanted to be, and whatever you do, be sure to do it passionately. … Because remember, life is now and the world is ours.”
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
— SIERRA HARLAND