One of my favorite songs from the musical, Wicked is called “For Good.” A part of it goes: “People come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn.” Four years ago, we entered one another’s lives with the turmoil of angsty middle schoolers. Some of us thought we clearly understood who our friends were and who our “enemies” were, some of us decided that we were only going to hang out with the cool kids and, most of us, myself included, panicked because we didn’t know where we would belong. However, we were all oblivious to how a uniquely diverse group of people was about to teach us so much about life.
During the past four years, through the courses we struggled to excel in, through the daily conversations we had, through the club meetings we attended, through the performances we enjoyed, through the sports games we watched, through not one but two Class Battles we won, and, most importantly, through the precious relationships we established, we challenged our own assumptions about people. We began to realize that varsity athletes can appreciate painters, theater kids can have mutual interests with science research nerds, computer geniuses can make friends with writers, musicians can tolerate tone-deaf people, Jews can have a lot of non-Jewish friends and even adults could actually make long-lasting impacts on a bunch of immature teenagers. How unexpected those occurrences were! Yet, for them to happen, all it took was some patience and some open-minded souls. Every time we blurred the lines between our hobbies, goals, political stances, race and religion, and every time we learned from others’ perspectives, our hearts subconsciously grew more in sync.
And then, time flew.
Now that we’re about to embark on a new journey, it is the perfect time to reflect upon how we changed during the past four years. Look at us. Look at how we’ve transformed and grown into much more complex, aware and empathetic individuals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the girl who wears glasses and prefers Chinese tea to coffee. But hey, at the same time, from some of you guys, I also picked up some Hebrew or Farsi sayings like mazel tov and vvl. Parts of you have already become part of me, and I certainly hope the reverse is true as well.
Through all our interactions as individuals, we strengthened the sense of “I” as we figured out that every one of us is different. I may be the only person who snaps with my ring finger, but you may be the only person who memorizes every random fact from Marvel and DC movies, or you may the only person who tries to play every single wind instrument on the planet. If we could go back in time, perhaps we would tell our freshmen selves not to worry that we wouldn’t fit in. We would say that some people will embrace our quirks, and that we will also learn to embrace others’ quirks. With love and support, each of us became so much more self-assured as we came to understand, as Ben Platt said in his Tony acceptance speech this year, “The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”
Meanwhile, we also formed the sense of “we.” “We” experienced many successes and “we” occasionally made mistakes, but “we” stayed together through trying times. Remember the final week before a huge show or a big match? Regardless of how exhausted each individual felt, “we” always managed to pull through with our best efforts. Or just think back to when some people questioned what Great Neck’s public schools can offer, “we,” the beneficiaries from Great Neck North’s education, stood up and spoke up for everything we love. “We” will have separate paths in the future, but “we” won’t forget our time at Great Neck North. “We” will remember our differences, but we will also remember how “we” came together not in spite of but because of those differences. “We” will remember the parts of us that we owe to everyone sitting here today. “We” will pass on the energy of our class wherever we go.
Returning to the song I mentioned at the beginning, in Wicked, when the two witches part, the last few lines they sing are: “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Today, I urge all of you to repeat the same line in your heart and to feel truly grateful for everyone who was a part of the past four years of your life, and how our time here and with each other has changed us for good.
Congratulations. And to the families, friends, teachers and students of Great Neck North Class of 2017, thank you!
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 Malfi, Benjamin Newman, Joshua Putter, Shrinath Viswanathan and Melody Yang.
Learn about the 2017 valedictorians and salutatorians here.