Co-Valedictorian Graelin Mandel’s Great Neck North High School Graduation Speech

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Graelin Mandel
Graelin Mandel

Greetings, thanks and congratulations to the esteemed Class of 2016.

A poor boy wanders through a castle, staring straight down at the oil he carries on his silver spoon. An old man had instructed him to carry this spoon throughout the castle without letting the oil spill. And so, focused on the task at hand, he does not notice the beauty and splendor around him—the shining golden palace walls, the rubies and emeralds cascading from the ceiling, the delicate flowers lining the corridors. He keeps looking down at that silver spoon.

Once the boy, presenting with a full spoon of oil, returns to the old man, the man asks him, “Did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took 10 years to create?” The boy, embarrassed, admits that he did not notice.

“Go back. See all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon,” the old man instructs.

Thus, we finished Paulo Coelho’s novel, The Alchemist, the first book we read in high school. As we analyzed the discussion between the poor boy and the old man, we considered the boy’s mindset—his hyper-focus on a singular task of balancing the oil without beholding the beauty beyond. Then, we popped back into freshman year with all its daily challenges and distractions.

The varsity cutoff list to be posted in the morning; the possibility of Freshman Friday; the musical’s first audition; the upcoming physics exam; the number of Likes our photograph got on Instagram. We stared at the oil in our spoons—that oil representing our daily responsibilities—and walked forward ever so carefully. Gaining momentum in junior year, as the prospect of college approached, it seemed like there was more oil on the spoon to carry. And that we had to do so at a faster pace.

It was a week before the SAT that I came to my “aha” moment! I was in the audience experiencing my first taste of Great Neck North’s musicals. It was the show Rent. The student actors channeled New York City’s artistes, who did not know whether they would live the next day, have food to eat or money to pay the rent. The oil on their spoons was heavy, and yet, these artists managed to see beyond. They created phenomenal beauty and exuberant human connection. They balanced their lot and transcended it with artistic vision.

And so today, on this pristine afternoon, I urge you to lift your heads and look up. Absorb this sea of blue robes—our bubbling ocean of graduates soon to independently stream. Later, drive to Steppingstone Marina at sundown and run with open arms into the water, birds flying all around. Sing along to “Panic! at the Disco” with friends and the windows rolled down on the Long Island Expressway at midnight like Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower. Watch the sun rise from the top marble step of dear North High with its stately white pillars.

We have been so lucky to be surrounded by such beauty all this time, and no matter where you are, if you just look up, you will find more. Whether it’s the cherry tree by the dorm room or the view from the office window.

And all the while, never stop holding that oil on the spoon. Class of 2016, we will have responsibilities, increasingly so, that will oblige our attention. Tend to these responsibilities daily, balancing the precious oil on the spoon, and then be sure to face upward absorbing the broader view. There is beauty and purpose in steadying the oil itself, as well as freedom and joy in our ability to change focus.

Onward and thank you.

Read the complete graduation speeches from the Great Neck North Class of 2016: Adir VegonGraelin MandelIsabelle Sehati and from Great Neck South: Annabelle GoldenAnnie YangEmily BaeHaley RoachLance Kim and Michael Shen.

Learn about the 2016 valedictorians and salutatorians here.

Find out about other 2016 award winners here and here.

See who the 2016 Great Neck North graduates are here.

Find out who graduated from Great Neck South here.

For a list of The Village School graduates, click here.

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