Good afternoon parents, teachers, administrators and, most importantly, my fellow students, the Great Neck South graduating class of 2017.
As I sat in my room a few weeks ago trying to write this speech, I honestly had no idea where to begin. Overwhelmed by the different paths I could take in addressing my fellow classmates, while still adhering to today’s theme—Free to Fly—I thought back to what my dad used to say when he was trying to impose his musical tastes on my young and impressionable mind: When in doubt, the answer is always Tom Petty.
In one of his most famous songs, “Learning to Fly,” Tom sings: “I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings, Coming down is the hardest thing.”
As each of us walks across this stage today, we will each begin a new chapter in our life. Graduating from high school and going to college, many of us will move away from home for the first time. We will set off for new schools filled with new people, leaving behind the comfort of our families and friends, the people who have watched us glide through the good times and who have helped guide us through the tough times. We begin this new adventure without those on whom we have relied during the past 18 years, those who carried us through our childhood.
We’re learning to fly, but we ain’t got wings.
Moving away to live on our own at college may seem overwhelming and scary, but it is also an incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the country and the world, and to try things we may not have had the opportunity to try in high school, whether it be new cuisine, new music, new courses of study or new extracurricular activities. We all should take advantage of these new opportunities over the next four years, since there is no better place to try to expand our wingspans than at college.
We might fail; we might even fall a few times. Attempting something new is a challenge, and if we don’t succeed, it can be disappointing. We set our hopes high and, as Tom sang, “Coming down is the hardest thing.”
We need to accept failure as a valuable part of life: Nobody can succeed in everything they do. Quarterback Brett Favre, who threw the second-most touchdown passes in NFL history, also holds the record for most interceptions. Cy Young, the winningest pitcher in baseball history, also has the most losses. Failure shouldn’t be a deterrent for taking risks and trying new experiences. As we all spread our wings and prepare to take flight “Into the Great Wide Open,” we must remember to accept the possibility of falling, because that’s where the real growth comes from.
I want to thank my parents, siblings, teachers, friends and all those who helped me learn to fly over the past 18 years, and I wish us all success in our future endeavors.
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.