Sometimes, when my mind goes blank, and I’m sitting in the silence of my room, I wonder how I ended up here. How did the kid who spent so much of her childhood in timeout, the kid who wasn’t allowed to have friends over to play, the kid who always seemed to mess up, how did a kid like me end up here? Was it fate? Was it some kind of divine intervention? Was it luck?
I have thought about that question a lot in my life. When I first came to Massachusetts it was almost impossible for me to understand that not only was the experience I had had in Florida not normal and not okay, but it was no longer my experience. I was suddenly surrounded by people who seemed to like me. How could that be? When my moms, Judy and Carol, showed me love even when I made mistakes, I was confused. Why weren’t they yelling at me? Why weren’t they shoving me in some timeout room? Why were they trying to help me? I was bad. I was a problem-child. I didn’t deserve their help or their love.
As I have gotten older, I have been able to look back on that question that I posed to you all, “How did I get here?”, with more insight and more maturity. I have since come to the conclusion that I have gotten here because of you. Because of this school district, these teachers, these staff members, and most of all, because of you, my classmates.
I recall during my junior year, that I once had a teacher flip out on me just a tad for what felt like literally no reason. After talking to said teacher, I discovered that they had been mad because I had unknowingly given away the answer to a problem. The teacher then went on to say that they had come to understand that much of what I do, I do because I want to protect all of you. It had never occurred to me before. The way you all had picked me up off the ground when I was quite content staying where I was had prompted me to start feeling responsible for protecting you in some way. It suddenly made sense– why I always felt compelled to speak at School Committee Meetings when I worried that something might impact us as students, why I was perfectly fine with calling a peer out if I knew they could do better, why I have always jumped to defend you online when I see adults taking jabs at us…
You see, none of this ever would have been possible without you. Perhaps you may think that because we didn’t talk much, or we didn’t always get along, that this speech isn’t directed at you. I am not one to enjoy parties, to enjoy going places, or to enjoy many sporting events. But I can confidently say that I have enjoyed being your classmate very, very much, and I want you to know that no matter how little we may have talked, you are still a massive part of the reason why I am standing here today, and I cannot thank you enough.
There is this memory that comes to my mind whenever I think of this class of people, and I would like to share it because it is a memory that I think I will cherish for the rest of my life. It happened during the Touchdown Tuesday game– senior girls versus the junior girls. It was early on in the game and I had gone out onto the field for the first time. I was supposed to be a wide receiver for the duration of that offensive drive but I was not who the ball was going to so I knew my job was to block as best as I could. On the second play of the drive, I came up to meet the opposing cornerback and we tussled for a few moments until she managed to slip away from me, and I wasn’t about to blindly knock into a girl from behind in a game of fun flag football so I began chasing after the cornerback as our teammate raced down the field with the ball. Suddenly, the very thing that I had just decided I wouldn’t do to the opposing cornerback happened to me. One second I was running full speed, and the next second a shoulder was thrown into my back and I was falling to the ground, skidding a bit as I went, my head banging twice gently on the ground and my glasses slipping off my face. I rushed to my feet again, but I was out of the play and slowed to a stop. Everyone was asking me if I was okay, and yes, I was. I was physically fine but I was embarrassed beyond belief. As we began to line up for the next play, though, a chant began echoing down the senior sideline: “Don’t touch Autumn! Don’t touch Autumn! Don’t touch Autumn!” It didn’t last very long, but it didn’t matter. My heart still swells with pride and joy when I think of that memory.
What does this say about this class, you might ask? Well, it says you protect your own. You know when to joke around, and you know when it’s not funny anymore, and you know when to make your voice heard and when to sit quietly and listen, and you know how to care about people who you may not really know. It has truly been a pleasure knowing each and every one of these graduates. Without you, I never would have learned to stand up for myself, to love myself, or to know that I am not bad. You have all lifted me up in ways I never would have thought possible. Through all this craziness that we have endured, we have stuck together and we have held each other up. I now want to leave you with a quote that I think is quite fitting for the end of our time here, in the words of Harry Potter: “Mischief managed!” Congratulations to my class, my people, my home, the Class of 2020!