Leila Sassouni’s North High Graduation Speech

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Leila Sassouni

I am ecstatic to represent our class, as I stand in front of classmates with whom I have journeyed to this place, some since pre-K, to speak about perseverance.

First, I would like to share the title of a children’s story that I am sure many of us can recall reading years ago. In his version of the classic fairytale Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall, Herbert Block illustrates an egg-shaped man who habitually fails to climb up a wall successfully due to his fragility. In 2017, Dan Santat published a sequel to this story, entitled After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again). In it, Santat writes of Humpty Dumpty’s release from the hospital after his fall from a wall that he joyously climbs to hear birds sing tunes. He leaves the hospital, all bandaged up and with high hopes of a quick recovery. Humpty dreams of climbing back up the ladder at the supermarket to reach his favorite cereals, and climbing once again his favorite wall, despite his several accidents and failed attempts. Santat touches on one of the most beautiful aspects of our shared humanity: the triangle of failing, determination and perseverance.

Taking an educated guess right now, I would predict that the majority of us sitting in this auditorium have experienced pain and struggle, and that most of us have recovered or are in the process of recovering, whether after a short or long period. I am sure we have all experienced times where we have attempted something new, failed or did not perform as well as we initially believed we would, but then tried again. Many of us participated on athletic teams and dealt with an injury, or discovered that we weren’t as good as we thought we were, or realized how much practice it would take to reach the level we wanted to be at, but put in the time to become better. Some of us have challenged ourselves with an AP course and struggled to understand the AP Calculus material or felt underprepared for an upcoming science test, but attended extra help to fill in the gaps. We haven’t been all that different from Humpty: he decided to construct a paper plane that he could fly next to the birds and, despite the several scratches and after countless days he spent on his project, he successfully made a bird-like plane. A trend has developed: We fail or do not perform particularly well, feel determined to try again and persevere—and achieve.

But what Humpty also learns is that no one travels alone. He realized, as part of his journey, that “There were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue,” but rather healed with the support of his doctors and friends who helped him in his process of recovery. With this contributed support, he felt more inclined to pursue his dreams in climbing the wall. Like him, we emerged into a world where we were only vaguely familiar with breakage, but we have grown accustomed to it. As we’ve matured, each of us has likely come to embrace the term breakage, as well as the word repair. Whether we have experienced tedious drama with friends, have said goodbye to a loved one or have dealt with another hardship, our backbones have become increasingly stronger, larger through the support of the people around us. After an obstacle, we can specify those friends who continued to support and care for us. Presumably, my classmates and I have each dealt with issues that have allowed us to feel internally alone. But what we’ve learned, more than anything else, is that we are not alone. And knowing that we are not alone should give us the gift that Humpty gives himself. He reapproaches the wall with fear, but remembers the support he has gotten and the goals he has. This gives him the courage he needs to say, “I almost walked away, again. But then I thought about all the time I’d spent working on my plane, and all the other things I’d missed. I decided I was going to climb that wall.” Despite the tremendous fear Humpty Dumpty felt as he decided to climb the precarious ladder, he exemplifies the importance of moving “One step at a time… until [he] was no longer afraid.”

To my fellow graduates: I encourage each of you to stay determined and persevere. We are the Class of 2018, a grade with unique talents, immense passion and dedication, and a heart-felt love for learning. When we all leave the ceremony today to celebrate this milestone with family and friends, I encourage all of us to continue with determination and challenge ourselves, despite the number of times we fail or perform unsuccessfully. Just like Humpty Dumpty hopes to be known as “the egg who got back up…,” we should remind ourselves that we must continue to push ourselves to excel and face our fears, regardless of failure. Psychologist B.F. Skinner once said, “A failure is not always a mistake. It may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.” Best wishes to the Class of 2018 for continued success, happiness, perseverance and opportunities—and may you all never stop trying.

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