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Student Speeches from the Graduation of the Class of 2021

NOTE: All writing is copied from the final draft of the speech that was used for reference at the Graduation Ceremony. It might not follow the exact version of the speeches delivered word for word, as there are slight changes due to the many emotions of the day.

Julia Kemp, the person with the second-highest overall average, delivered her opening remarks at the start of the ceremony. (Photo taken by Ian Hardy).

Julia Kemp, Salutatorian

Good morning Ms. Emel, Ms. Daskaris, Ms. Marrero, Mr. Irizarry, guests, teachers, and my fellow graduates. Thank you for joining us at the graduation ceremony of PS/IS 187’s Class of 2021! I’d like to begin by thanking all of our families for supporting us from our days of princess and superhero backpacks to laptops and graduation gowns. I’d also like to thank all of our teachers for inspiring, guiding, and putting up with us during our years at 187. And I can’t forget to thank my fellow students. We’ve tattled on each other in kindergarten, whispered to each other during silent lunch periods in elementary school, and done the Cha Cha Slide on Field Day. These are memories that we’ll share forever.

Dr. Seuss said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” One moment that has become a memory that stands out to me is the first day of preschool here at 187. My mind was blown by all the different stations in the pre-k room! When I got home, I sat in a corner by my toy basket and just stared at the wall for a while, overwhelmed by so many new impressions. Maybe something in my 3-year-old brain sensed that this was an important moment - the first of many. Some moments that have become memories for all of us include the big blowup slide at the County Fair, that day we all bought baguettes at the grocery store while we were eating out, and how Mr. H would throw a ball at us in Social Studies when he wanted to call on us. We’ll all remember field trips to the Intrepid and Top of the Rock. And I’m sure most of us have a story about a time we forgot to mute ourselves in a google meet and people heard something we didn’t mean for them to hear!

We’ve been through so much together, from our first days at school to our graduation. When the pandemic hit and we had to switch to remote learning, we supported each other and stayed in touch. It was a bumpy learning curve for all of us, but it wasn’t without humor. One of my favorite learning curve moments was when one of our teachers was experimenting with breakout rooms and accidentally put herself in a breakout room while the rest of us chatted for 20 minutes until she reappeared. I’m still not sure she knows that’s what happened, but we learned that we were all in this together, and by the next day we all understood how to use breakout rooms. We’ve had to miss out on some senior activities we’d looked forward to, such as the traditional senior trip, but our teachers, especially Ms. O’Callaghan, organized senior hangouts and other fun activities to make up for it.

Some of our best lessons did not come from a textbook. Together we’ve learned that we can achieve our goals even when the path to success looks different than we imagined it would. While unanticipated events and experiences may sometimes leave us temporarily sitting in a corner staring at a wall, we now know that we can be creative and resilient and chart our own way forward. We’ve learned that when life throws us a curveball, we can grab a bat and swing!

My fellow graduates, congratulations! We’ve accomplished a great deal, and I know that with the tools and knowledge that we’ve acquired thus far, we can step into the future with enthusiasm and confidence. As Walt Disney put it: “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Thank you.

Cece Beauchamp spoke on behalf of the Student Government at Graduation about the accomplishments of the past year. (Photo taken by Ian Hardy).

Cece Beauchamp, Student Government President

Good morning Ms. Topbas, Ms. Daskaris, honored guests, and fellow eighth-graders. Today I am here to speak to you as student government president but even more importantly I’m here to speak on behalf of the incredible student body of 187. It is no mystery what we have all been through this year. And it is no question how different it has been then we thought it would be. But, as president of the middle school, I can proudly say that there have been huge goals conquered during this crazy year.

With everything that has happened- virtual classes, hybrid school, google meets- it has been the hardest year yet for student government. But, we didn’t let anything get in the way of us making a difference to our school community. As leader of the student government with Vice president Ms. Sohji Cohen and advisor, the amazing Ms. Manolas at my side [thank you Ms. Manolas], we did so much in 2021 to make an impact on our school community. I am immensely proud of everything we have accomplished.

One of the most monumental things done was I got a chance to go over and make suggestions on the new school website that just came out. We were even able to add a student government section. All of the student government officers and representatives created a bio, and the student government section, to share more about what we do and who we are with the community. It was just recently approved to be put onto the website. This was one of the many ways I was hoping to leave a mark on this incredible school. Another huge achievement this year was that it was voted by the SLT committee (or school leadership team) to have students be able to join their meetings to represent the student voice when making big decisions that affect the students. The SLT committee consists of teachers, parents, and the principal and they make decisions that affect school events, classes, and our community overall. I was the first student to ever weigh in on, or even attend, an SLT meeting. During this unprecedented year, we were even able to hold major student government events including career day, a cooking contest, and a newly created gender identity club. It is extremely important to me that students and young people get a say in the things that affect them. Often, the opinions of teenagers such as ourselves are overlooked by society. But we are the next leaders. We are the next astronauts, firefighters, public defenders, and presidents. We will run the world! That is why this year I made sure to, in every way I could, make your voices heard, our voices heard. Because they are so valuable. I see it every day in every single one of you. The value of having the younger generations’ ideas or input is incredibly special and necessary.

Delancey was the first person to awaken the idea that student government might be for me before I could even picture it for myself. Once I realized I wanted to be a part of it I ran for rep in 6th grade, and for vice president in 7th. I got them too, believe it or not. And from there I realized my love and passion for using my voice to represent my peers. That right there is my favorite thing about being president; I get to take what I learn, see, and talk about with my fellow peers and put it into action within the school community and maybe one day the global community. Every single one of you are the voices in making change, I’m just the one who gets to bring them to life! And I am so grateful to have that gift.

The love that this grade shares is almost unbelievable. No two people are the same. We are such a diverse and creative grade. Throughout life people will try to put us down. There is no question about that. But we have learned how to cope, this school has prepared us for the world we will be stepping into. And each and every one of you is worth so much and is so incredible.

This past year has been so hard and taken such a mental and emotional toll on a lot of us. But what's been even harder is that we haven’t had a regular eighth-grade year. We’ve sacrificed so much to stay safe at a time of uncertainty. But look at us now. If you think about it, we’ve had a pretty amazing past 5 weeks. We have squeezed every ounce of celebrating, rejoicing and commemorating our time together. We were able to have ring day, and it was better than I could’ve ever imagined- different, but it felt so very valuable. We had our class trip! It wasn’t at rocking horse ranch, but it was with each other, which kind of seemed to be enough. We had a field day! We’ve been able to do a lot this year, more than we might even realize. But the biggest blessing we will always share whether we’re with each other or not is... each other. We will always have this community, this family. These friendships that we’ve been developing for 9-10 years are forever. This is the place where we learned what a friend is and how to make one. Look around, you see faces you’ve grown up with. We will always be 187 strong. No matter where we go, no matter where life takes us, that will always stay with us. We all have an unbreakable bond that can not be changed by anything, even by leaving. There's this quote that I found myself deeply connected to at this moment. “A parrot talks way too much but can’t fly high, but an eagle is silent and has the willpower to touch the sky.” We are eagles. Always be eagles. We will proudly soar. We will go far. We will dominate the sky.

Thank you everyone.

Isabella Talamantes and Lily Gibbons revealed the senior portrait they created and talked about the different aspects represented in their piece. (Photo taken by Ian Hardy).

Isabella Talamantes and Lily Gibbons, Artists' Presentation

Class of 2021, we have been through a lot this year. This gift to the school that Lily and I made is called “Stronger Together.” The painting represents the struggles we went through as a class. Despite everything the chaotic year has thrown at us, we can all say that we are stronger together. We survived a pandemic, and even more challenging, remote learning. We lost opportunities, experiences, and our old normal. Some of us lost loved ones. While the grey background represents challenges we faced as a community, we overcame those challenges and became stronger together. Our years at 187 have made us stronger. This school has shaped us into the people we are today, and has taught us things that we will carry into the future. The painting itself is a mixture of traditional paint with digital art. We thought this would capture the spirit of our blended year. It is centered around the computers that connected us during our time apart. The sunset-inspired color of the main device represents our time at 187 coming to an end, and the dawn of a new beginning. While we are logging off and out of P.S./I.S. 187 Hudson Cliffs, we must remember that we are stronger now than we ever have been. We will continue to carry the strength we have built together in the years to come. My fellow classmates, and to all the 8th graders that will follow in our footsteps, remember that you are strong. More importantly, remember that as a community, class, and as a family, you are stronger together.

Yuxin Waitkus-Tsang, the person with the highest overall average, spoke about her time at 187 and the impact the class will have on the future. (Photo taken by Ian Hardy).

Yuxin Waitkus-Tsang, Valedictorian

Good Morning, Ms. Emel, Ms. Daskaris, Ms. Marrero, Mr. Irizarry, teachers, honored guests, and fellow graduates of the Class of 2021.

As valedictorian, my speech is supposed to represent what the future holds. But honestly, it’s not easy to talk about a future that doesn’t include all of you in it. Yes, I’m sure more than a few of you are anxious to get out of here and embrace a new adventure, but for me, saying farewell is something I never truly imagined. While we all knew that we would be graduating at some point, it didn’t truly sink in until last week, when we received our caps and gowns and it became official. We’re graduating. Graduating. Leaving the place that has become what for so many of us is our home away from home. When I walked through those double doors in the garden path for the first time in Pre-K, I never thought that I would be standing here today, addressing my classmates as we prepare for the start of the next chapter of our lives, one that we take on our own. But here I am, trying not to stumble over words as I gaze out upon all of you gathered here for one last time.

The past year has been extremely tough for all of us. There is no doubt about that. But it’s also been extremely eye-opening. For perhaps the first time, we weren’t looking at the world as children anymore. And our parents — try as they might — couldn’t shelter us from it any longer and protect our innocence. We’ve seen with our own eyes how a pandemic could take away our loved ones, ravage entire communities, and split the world in two. We witnessed people senselessly murdered because of the color of their skin and were appalled that some lives still mattered more than others. We saw people storming the very place where our democracy was built. These realities could no longer be hidden. But that’s a good thing. Because when we talk about the future, what we’re really talking about is ourselves. Through our own eyes, we saw the world as it truly was, and in turn, how those issues are going to define our future. We are the generation that is going to have to live with these issues.

These days, it’s all too easy to think about ourselves, our own self-interest, our own personal successes. But, the world can’t wait forever. As the next caretakers of this world, we can choose how to solve those problems and how to make a difference.

The late civil-rights icon John Lewis once said we should “never be afraid to make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble.” Well, we have an obligation to society, to ourselves, and to the next generation, to make the world a better place. And the best way to do that is to make good trouble. We can’t blindly follow the rules and think that everything will be fine. Because it will not be fine and we deserve better than just fine. We have pressing issues like climate change and racial justice, calling us to stand up to the powers that be to usher in the change that needs to be made. Of course, it won’t be easy. Nothing impactful ever is. Those in charge may dismiss us, say we’re too young. But we’ve already shown we can hold people accountable for their actions that damage our future by protesting and creating that change. We are the next leaders. The next strivers. The next achievers. And we need to envision a world for the greater good where everyone will thrive, regardless of race, class, or gender.

In literacy, as we all know, we have been learning about what defines success. We analyzed several quotes. One by Juliana Hatfield stood out in particular. “If you want to achieve things in life, you’ve just got to do them, and if you’re talented and smart, you’ll succeed.” But while it certainly doesn’t hurt to be smart and talented, as Hatfield says, those aren’t the only things that count in life. Because the fact of the matter is, that one’s future isn’t solely dictated by grades or innate ability. It is measured by dedication, perseverance, and a passion for what you do.

Each of those traits was tested during the pandemic, and the fact that we’re here today is a testament to that strength. And having known you all for so long, I know that every one of you has that strength within yourselves even if some of you don’t know it just yet. Let yourself believe in that one dream. Because I know that if you put your mind to it, you can, and you will make it a reality. Because we are the future.

Now, I want to thank all of our teachers, past and present, and our parents for fostering our love of learning and guiding us through our early stages of life. You all are the reasons we’ve made it this far.

Finally, thank you to all my classmates. It’s been an honor and a privilege to know you. Having spent a decade of my life here at 187, I’ll always cherish the relationships and memories I made here. Whether it’s goofing off with friends during lunch, having Ms. Douglas jump over me and my teammates while doing burpees at track practice [Thanks, Ms. Douglas, you’re amazing], or being part of the incredible group that founded The Heights Bulletin. This place, this community, this family, is what made me excited to go to school every day, and it will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Some time ago, Mr. V mentioned how he never lost contact with all of his friends from his time at 187. That they were bonded for life. I sincerely hope that the same goes for us. I stand here because you all pushed me to be who I am today. So thank you, for permitting me to share this small fragment of time with you, as we all go our separate ways. Just remember: We will be there for you, whenever you need us, every step of the way.

I love you all and thank you for everything.

Collected and formated by the Heights Bulletin.

All writing was used with permission from the writer/speaker.

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