Salutatorian Annie Yang’s Great Neck South High School Graduation Speech

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Annie Yang
Annie Yang

We’re all here today to celebrate success. Students, we made it. We survived, and we’re finally getting out of high school. Teachers, you saw us through four years here and many of you dragged your senioritis-infected students to the finish line. Parents, you can finally get rid of that wild animal in your house. But in this brief time I have your attention, before you forget the words I’m speaking right as they’re coming out of my mouth, I want to talk about failure.

I’m sure many of you thought or perhaps still think that “success” means getting good grades, getting into a good college, getting a good job and having a good life. We’re all so afraid of anything that will get in the way of this straightforward, linear path; we’re all so afraid of failure. But one day you might wake up and realize you got that SAT score, you got that college acceptance, you got what you thought was success. But you’re still not happy. It doesn’t feel like success. What went wrong?

I encourage you all, then, to consider failure with a little less fear. Just because you failed doesn’t mean that you’ve let down everyone who was rooting for you, duped everyone who believed in you, wasted the time of everyone who guided you—that you are somehow no longer deserving of the love others have for you. I think we will be pleasantly surprised to find in our friends and family the same love as before, in our mentors the same patience as before, in our supporters the same belief as before, and maybe in ourselves the resilience to become better than what we were before.

You’ve only failed when you allow one setback to hold you back from pushing yourself, from improving, from growing. And failure is a painful but very necessary part of learning. If you’ve never made a mistake in your life (well, good for you, but spread some of the fortune around to the rest of us), you haven’t learned anything. We don’t wake up one day charming, kindhearted and intelligent. A lot of us stutter when giving speeches, forget to compliment that girl on her amazing dress and struggle at first with related rates or simple harmonic motion. All of us have to try and fail and fail and fail again to become the people we want to be. But we’re trying, and failing, and failing better every time.

But don’t spend your time failing over and over again for things that you don’t like or things that don’t make you happy. That only makes you miserable. We all have to find something we’re willing to fail constantly and fail full-heartedly for.

Now here comes the obligatory mention of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss was rejected a whopping 27 times before finally getting his first book published. Why would you be willing to fail so many times, to have your heart torn out so many times if you didn’t truly love what you were doing? That’s what we call passion.

I encourage you all to spend the next however many years not necessarily following your passion but fostering it. I got this straight from a New York Times article; it’s a very good read. If you’re a directionless wreck like me who takes life advice from The New York Times, take time to explore your interests, to find what draws you in, to discover what makes you feel like you’re making a difference in your own life and maybe even the world. And then, Class of 2016, go for it. Fail for it. Fail, unafraid. Fail, unashamed. The success, the happiness, they will come on their own.

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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