I am not really one to give speeches, so bear with me. I first want to congratulate each and every one of you sitting on this stage with me today. As Troy Bolton once said,“You did it, you graduated!” Everyone tells you that high school will be the best years of your life, but I think we can all say this was definitely a lie. Our 4 years of high school were nothing like we ever imagined. But hey, how many graduates can say they still graduated even after a fire and a pandemic?

Our high school years have been everything but ordinary. We thought experiencing a fire in 10th grade was the worst thing we had coming for us … but it was actually kind of a good thing because we didn’t have to take finals. Well, at least some of us didn’ t… Thanks, Mrs. Amer for still making us take that ITS one. Little did we know that the years to follow would be even worse. In March of last year, we were told there was a giant pandemic in China and that there was only a small chance it would impact u s… Well, Mr. Koschak, you were wrong! We were told “2 weeks to flatten the curve” and then we would be back in school. Well, it’s 1.5 years later and the curve still isn’t flattened!

The pandemic not only cut our junior year short, but it also ruined every fun aspect of our senior year. We missed out on so many activities. I mean, we had to have homecoming in the middle of the woods … Thanks, Mikey B.! But I think the hardest thing we have all gone through was going through senior year wearing a mask while half of our class was at home learning virtually. I personally lost numerous friendships simply because I didn’t see them every day. We have all gone through so much in the past 3 years, but in the end, all that matters is that we are still sitting on this stage today as graduates.

The past couple of years have taught us all that no matter what is thrown our way, we still end up right where we are supposed to be. Today we are supposed to be here, sitting on this stage together ready to open the door to the next chapter in our lives, whatever it may be. Some of us will go on to be teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, business men and women, heavy machine operators, or even cosmetologists. In the end, we will all be doing what we love, but we will always remember where we grew up. As Jack McClintock always said,“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I encourage each and every one of you to go out and fight for your goals no matter how big they are. Do what you love so you never have to work a day in your life!

It was at the beginning of this year that I found out that I was in the running to be valedictorian. It was then when I decided that I wanted it. So, I worked hard for it, I sacrificed for it, and yes, I stressed for it. And I got it! Being valedictorian, many of you would think that my life is a dream. Being named valedictorian felt so amazing for 30 seconds when Mr. Pietroski called me. For 30 seconds all of my hard work had truly paid off. However, there came a 31st second. And on this 31st second, I thought “that’s it?” All I had been given was a simple title of “valedictorian”… oh, and I was told I had to write a speech. To be honest, I don’t know if I was expecting a parade or balloons, or anything different than what I got. Maybe I was hoping this would make all of my stress and problems I have faced this year just disappear, but none of this happened. I was shocked about what I was feeling. This year was the complete opposite of a “breeze” for me. I can honestly say that being valedictorian was the hardest thing I have ever had to fight for in my life. I lost countless hours of sleep simply because I was up writing papers, studying for my AP Bio tests that Miller said were going to “make or break me,” or copying calculus homework (thanks, Ben and Tia). I also missed many valuable moments with family and friends because I had too much homework to do. I remember crying countless times throughout the year because I was scared my 95 in English was going to take my valedictorian title. This year was definitely very stressful for me. While fighting for my valedictorian spot, I was also busy doing all of the things class president, as well as student government president, does.

From planning pep rallies, to prom, to a COVID-friendly senior trip, I truly was busy all the time. I spent countless hours in Miss Shultz’s room, which I will forever be grateful for because of the positive impact it had on our relationship. On top of all of this, I was busy working 2-3 jobs at all times. And yes, I know it’s my own fault. I chose to do this to myself simply because I was just a broke girl trying to get through senior year. Well … I did more than just get through it. I overcame all of these obstacles to feel these 30 seconds of accomplishment.

However, these are 30 seconds I will always remember. Always reach for your goals, even if they will only make you feel accomplished for a short amount of time. 30 seconds of accomplishment is better than none. While fighting for these goals, always remember to thank those who have helped you along the way.

I personally have thousands of people I could thank, some of them who are not here today. I would first like to thank my parents for being there for me from day one. I would not be where I am today without them. I would especially like to thank my dad for stepping up to the role when given the chance. Thank you for giving me the best childhood I could have ever wished for. Thank you for teaching me many valuable lessons that I hated at the time, and thank you for teaching me that you have no clue how to do any math above an 8th grade level. To my mom, thank you for teaching me how to be an amazing person who stands up for what she believes in. Thank you for showing me how to always get what I want, and to not settle for anything less. Thank you both for raising me to be the woman I am today. To Kruz, thank you for teaching me how to be the wrestler I never wanted to be. I will always remember the countless half-nelsons, leg cradles, and cross faces you put me through in the middle of our living room. And to my grandparents, Muz and Gramp, thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for always being there when I needed you most, and thank you for always letting me come to your house when I needed to escape my parents. To Macy, thank you for being the sister I never had. I never knew being so close in age to your aunt would be a good thing but it definitely was. To my grandma, thank you for teaching me how to be the hard worker I am, and thank you for letting me drive my yellow hummer into your kitchen wall… numerous times. To Nah Nah and Big Gabe, thank you for being the best power couple there is. Thank you for always standing up for me when I need you most. Thank you for teaching me how to love unconditionally. And thank you for raising 6 beautiful children. To Aunt Courtney, thank you for teaching me that there is always room for change and that family matters most. To Queen and Pa, thank you for being a third set of grandparents to me. Thank you for always cooking me a good meal since we all know how well my mom cooks, and thank you for helping to raise Chris to be the hardworking man he is today.

But I think that by far the most important thank you goes to Google, Quizlet, and copy-paste. I don’t think any of us would have survived without them. Thank you to all of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, as well as all of the other friends and family sitting here today.

Thank you all for raising such an amazing group of kids. I can proudly say that none of us would be where we are today without your help. Thank you for everything you have done for the class of 2021. Sullivan County is a place where teachers encouraged us to break the status quo and define ourselves as we choose.

Thank you for showing us all who we truly are. Thank you for shaping us into excellent students as well as people. To the other staff and administration at SCHS, thank you for everything you have done for us. We truly cannot thank you enough for everything. To Miss Shultz, thank you for being the best class advisor we could have ever imagined. We would have never been able to get through the last 4 years without

you. I personally cannot thank you enough for the countless hours you let me spend in your room working on stuff for our class, or simply just because I didn’t feel like going to class that day. I will always be grateful for the relationship we built over these four years.

And lastly, to my classmates, I am truly proud of each and every one of you for everything you have accomplished in your time here at SCHS. I cannot wait to see where the future takes each of you on this crazy journey of life. I have no doubt in my mind that you will all move on to do something amazing. I encourage each and every one of you to follow your dreams, no matter how big they are. As we all open this next door of our lives, always remember where it all started. Sullivan County is having friends that we will keep for the rest of our lives and as Troy Bolton once said, I guess that really means we are “all in this together.” Because once a Griffin, always a Griffin.