Co-Salutatorian Rachel Brenner’s Great Neck South High School Graduation Speech

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Rachel Brenner, South High co-salutatorian

Good afternoon. Thank you to all of the people gathered here today for our graduation. In many ways, we would not be here if not for all of you—for our parents, quite literally, and for everybody else—our amazing administrators, terrific teachers and fantastic friends. We thank you for your steadfast support.

After weeks of procrastination, I finally sat down to write this speech—with my predictable Diet Snapple and a fully charged laptop. About an hour later, I was two Snapples in with a still-blank screen. Desperate for inspiration, I Googled. I listened in awe as Steve Jobs captivated his audience with profound insight; I laughed along with a crowd of 10,000 at Will Ferrell’s outlandish humor; I even watched a high schooler solve a Rubik’s Cube to present an extended metaphor for his high school experience. Yet, midway through my YouTube marathon, I stumbled upon two revelations. First, despite my best efforts, I could not solve a Rubik’s Cube. Second, my sources of inspiration weren’t working. Despite the witty, insightful and imaginative nature of each speech, none of the speakers had attended Great Neck South High School; consequently, their speeches were irrelevant. At this moment, I realized that my inspiration did not lie on YouTube or in a Rubik’s Cube, but rather within my own experiences in the Great Neck schools. Therefore, I stopped Googling and started remembering.

Class of 2017, I would like to take you back to the first day of elementary school. On that morning, we latched onto our parents’ legs, cried to go home or, in my case, faked a stomachache and actually did get sent home. Yet, after a mere week or two, we bounded into our classrooms with unbridled enthusiasm and reckless abandon. This newfound independence and excitement for learning was the beginning of our journey. With incredible vigor, we memorized multiplication tables and entered the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss and the marvelous magic of J.K. Rowling. We had a million questions: What is the spelling rule of “i before e except after c?” What are the seven continents? What is the Declaration of Independence? What did Hermione see in Ron?

Eight years later, we entered Great Neck South High School. We held onto our exuberance for learning, but our questions soon changed. No longer were we content with merely knowing what—we needed to know why. As we completed proofs of formulas with Mr. Dickson, questioned the role of the green light in The Great Gatsby with Mr. Graham and uncovered the complex motivation for American involvement in Vietnam with Mr. Madden, we learned to question answers that are too frequently accepted as immutable fact.

And this desire to know why has extended beyond the classroom to each of our respective passions. As we directed our own One Acts, dissected affidavits in Mock Trial, created revolutionary experiments in science research and examined customer motivational theories in DECA, we applied the greatest lesson South has taught us—question the status quo.

And by continuing to question the accepted, we will become airborne. For while knowledge provides a lift, questioning allows us to truly fly free. Therefore, we must formulate our own opinions and draw our own conclusions. We must refuse to be complacent as we investigate and imagine, as we invent and inspire. For our passion for knowledge and excitement for learning will ultimately guide each of us on a unique flight path as we become the writers, lawyers and doctors of the future.

Thus Class of 2017, I congratulate each of you on this bittersweet moment of achievement and completion, of goodbyes and hellos. The future remains unknown: the places we will go, the people we will meet. And the only way to know is to learn new things and to continue to question as we have throughout these past four years.

Congratulations, Class of 2017; I wish you a future filled with endless success, endless happiness and endless questions!

Read the complete graduation speeches from the Great Neck North Class of 2017: Yunyi (Anita) Zhang and Zachary Lee, and from Great Neck South: Rachel Brenner, Isabella Harnick, Isabella MalfiBenjamin Newman, Joshua Putter, Shrinath Viswanathan and Melody Yang.

Learn about the 2017 valedictorians and salutatorians here.

Find out about 2017 award winners here and here.

See the complete list of Great Neck North graduates here and the Great Neck South Class of 2017 here.

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