graduation 2020 speech

‘We must be thankful for our education, for our lives, and use them to work for what is just’

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 4:00pm

The Penobscot Bay Pilot has invited the Class of 2020 valedictorians and salutatorians to submit their graduation speeches for publishing on our site.

Below is the speech presented June 7 by Islesboro Central School valedictorian Olivia Kelly. 

Good afternoon teachers, parents, classmates and viewers,

The first thing I’d like to do today is to take a moment to recognize the people whose lives, educations and livelihoods have been so terribly interrupted by the Coronavirus over these past few months, especially those who are not as lucky as we are, to be sitting here today with our families to celebrate this momentous occasion. And, of course, to those who have made this possible; the essential workers for keeping our schools, hospitals and stores afloat, the community health-conscious citizens for keeping our infection rates low, the graduation planning committee, the School Board, Ms. Melissa, Ms. Kristen, our parents and our head of school, Mr. Hamm, for putting all of this together. Thank you all for your hard work in planning a dually safe and special event for us. And finally, to our commencement speaker for his inspiring words. From all of us to all of you, thank you. 

On a personal level, I’d also like to thank my family; my mom and dad for their invaluable support and love, and my brothers, Sage and Julian, for constantly challenging both my beliefs and my patience. I am more conscious and compassionate because of you. 

Whether you’ve lived on Islesboro your whole life, or you joined the ICS community more recently, there is a common experience which, I think it is safe to say, we all share. Through social upheaval and across local politics, this experience is a mutual familiarity with our community’s commitment to civic engagement. These shows of support, from continuous participation in ICS Junior Class fundraising events, to the outpouring of advocacy in response to unfair ferry ticket hikes last year, and the many community organizations dedicated to protecting the island’s people and resources, are all markers of the kind of personal leadership we should carry with us into our futures. 

I think it is easy for us to see the island and midcoast Maine as separate and far away from the events of the rest of the world. Instead we must remember that our actions in these communities matter. And we must take the same energy and care that we have received here, to pursue positive change.

In reflection on our time in this community, I would like to call on a seminal writing from the civil rights movement, which advocates the most important cause for community engagement; social justice. In April of 1963, minister and civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote what we know today as The Letter From Birmingham Jail.

Within his letter he urges for the cessation of moderacy in the face of racism. In his words, “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.... We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Dr. King’s words ring powerfully and poignantly in today’s world, especially given the devastating events of the past few weeks in the United States.

And so, I would like to challenge myself and my fellow graduates to do two things going forward. First, do not live moderately. We must allow ourselves the time and contemplation to discover our convictions, but let nothing hold us back from initiating conversation and exploration; even, and especially, when daunting. And second, we must make use of the moment. At this time we have more resources, technology and information available to us than any generation before. Let’s use it, and wisely.

Before we leave today, I would also like to recognize those whose lives have been taken and impacted by targeted and systemic racism in our country, especially those who have not had the privilege to graduate as we are. We must be thankful for our education, for our lives, and use them to work for what is just.

Lastly, dear ICS class of 2020; let's be proud of who we are today and become inspired by who we will be tomorrow; graduates, young adults, and ambassadors, not only for our school or our communities, but for ourselves. So as we leave this stage, and this island, let's remember the people we were while we sat in these chairs, as well as those who sat all around us, and thank them for what they have done. I am so proud of each of us, for today and for tomorrow. And I’m very grateful that we are able to graduate here, together. Thank you to our wonderful community members, administrators, counselors, teachers, friends, and family members who have helped us along the way. Thank you all.