So I’ve already spoken to you a bunch, and as soon as I realized how much I would be I had a somewhat frightening realization. There was absolutely no way I could come up with three or four life-changing, inspirational speeches, in fact I’d be lucky to come up with half of one. But after a couple stressful, caffeine-fueled 2 a.m. writing sessions, I finally understood something: Just as every speech can’t be life changing, not everyday at Williston is going to be the best.
There will be some days when getting up at 7 a.m. to finish the physics problem set seems impossible and when you don’t think you could possibly write one more supplemental essay. We’ve been here anywhere from 18 years to two weeks, but that’s not important, that’s not what defines us. We are all seniors.
On a certain plane ride to the southern deserts of Utah, I sat down next to an elderly woman with a cute, floppy hat. I commented on it, which sparked a conversation that lasted the entire plane ride—a full five and half hours. We swapped our entire life stories, cried a lot, did some Sudoku, and looked through her entire camera roll…and while I remember all of these gestures in great detail, one particular statement she made stuck out more than the rest.
“You know, Abigail, we grow up being conditioned to believe that we all have to be leaders, and not followers. But I’ve discovered that you should be neither a leader nor a follower; just be yourself.”
The conversation progressed, but yet words still perplexed me. After all, why on earth would anyone not attempt to be a leader? When given the opportunity, why should someone stay seated when they could stand up and take a challenge?
Yet over time, I began to see what she meant.
Editor’s Note: Senior Maddy Stern presented the following speech to her class on Sept. 8, 2013 during orientation.
First off, congrats. We finally made it—senior year. Every other grade on campus basically wants to be us right now. Simply by virtue of being seniors we are in a position to make a large impact on the school; people look up to us (physically and metaphorically). Some days it may not feel like what you do is important, but it is essential to remember that even if you only impact one person, you’ve made a difference.
Everything we’ve come to love and will continue to love about Williston doesn’t just happen, we make it happen. We paint the lion; we put embarrassing posters all over the school for people’s birthdays; we throw the best dances; we are proctors, captains, tutors, artists, leaders—but these are all just parts of a much larger whole. Just as you shouldn’t make the mistake to categorize the people you will interact with, Williston isn’t simply a label, or a shield. It is the sum of all our individual parts.
Just a few short months ago I stood before the Williston community at assembly trying my best to describe Soccer Without Borders and ask for help as I raised money to donate to the program. I knew the basics: I would be going to Nicaragua for a one week high school camp to attempt to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change in a country plagued with poverty and with few social or economic opportunities for girls. However, what I did not know was the impact the trip would have on me. Thank you for all who so generously donated money, soccer equipment or bought t-shirts and bracelets. Below I will share my story.
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
– Nelson Mandela
Stepping out of the Managua airport on August 4th I was immediately hit with a wave of smells: the smoke from hundreds of cigarettes mixed with the smell of horses and the sewage that was running in a milky stream along the curb, along with the exhaust from the vans and taxis meandering their way along the narrow airport road. Waiting out in front with the other members of my group (whom I had never met before) we stood together for what felt like hours in the hot, sticky, smelly air. Our bus driver was attempting to get 30-something suitcases and duffle bags into a van smaller than a Williston mini-bus while still leaving room for the 13 or so people in our group.
Aristotle once said “We are what we repeatedly do. Then excellence is not an act but a habit.” It’s not about what you have done in the past, but what you will do now and in the following years, to make yourself a more knowledgeable student, a better athlete, a more talented musician, or just a better individual. Whatever you do in the following years do it for yourself, do it so that you become a better you. Whether that translates into starting a foundation and helping others, serving your country, or study for your college major, set your goals and aspire to achieve them. Be the one to take the initiative and guide others in everything you do. Why sit back when you have to opportunity lead, the opportunity to perhaps help someone and change their lives.