(Part of a continuing series featuring local high school graduation speeches.)

Hello, I’m Anna Maenza, the valedictorian of the Class of 2021. I’d like to thank you all for coming out today to celebrate with us. This day has been 13 years in the making for me at NRCS. In the 13 years I have attended this school, I have walked across every inch of these premises making memories with every step. I still remember stepping onto the blacktop in front of the school to play cops and robbers for the first time and I remember falling on the blacktop for the first time as the teachers called out a gracious reminder to skip and not run. I remember walking down the basement stairs to my sixth grade classroom in my first real pair of high heels and promptly falling down those stairs in those heels. I’ll always remember hopping onto the locker room stairs while the first snow of the year floated to my feet, and you guessed it, I fell up those stairs too. OK, so maybe I’ve done more falling at this school than walking ... but I digress. Class, today we are walking in a way we have never walked before.

Shortly we will be walking across this stage proudly as graduates with diplomas in our hands and our dreams in our hearts. Hopefully none of us will fall as we do that. As we walk confidently today, it is important to remember those who’ve guided our steps as we found our stride. To our teachers, from Mrs. Race who straightened our caps 13 years ago, and all our other elementary teachers who didn’t let tantrums, runny noses and untied shoes deter them from teaching us. To our high school teachers who will probably never see a group of people eat more food in a single sitting and will probably never again say that there are no stupid questions after having our class. We undoubtedly proved that statement wrong. Thank you for always providing us with a safe space for stupid questions and welcoming our impromptu ice cream parties. Most importantly, I want to thank each of you for exemplifying the love of Christ and prioritizing spiritual lessons over academic lessons.

My friends and classmates, thank you for trudging through the muddy parking lot on our way to take another test on the worst days and for soaking in the sunrays and singing in between classes on the best days. Girls, thank you for being my honorary sisters, advising me about nails, reassuring me in my uncertainty and hyping me up when I wear a new outfit. Boys, thank you for making us all laugh and your daily comments about how my clothes make me look like a grandmother, a little boy, a banana and most creatively, Shrek.

I’d like to thank my family. Whether it was proofreading research papers, listening to tearful descriptions of my day, or helping me figure out an email password that I couldn’t seem to remember, you’ve been immeasurably important to me. To my parents, you both literally taught me how to walk, how well you did with that may be questionable after the stories I just told. You taught me not only how to walk physically, but spiritually as well. You have always shown me the right way to go and given me the means to get there. The greatest thing you have ever done for me was sharing the message of salvation through Jesus Christ and showing me how He loves in the way that you’ve loved me and everyone you encounter. You are the most loving parents anyone could ask for. If I asked for a star, you’d find a way to bring me back the moon. Thank you for letting God use your beautiful hearts to nurture my life.

Everyone who is sitting in the audience today has contributed something wonderful to our lives in one way or another. Thank you all for everything you have done. Classmates, we will soon not only be walking across this stage, but we will also be walking out those doors and into the world that we have not yet known as graduates, as adults. However, as we go, we need not fear the loose gravel, unsteady shoes and slippery steps out there in the world. We have assurance that should we fall, we have a multitude of loved ones to pick us up and more importantly, a God that will never forsake us downtrodden on a path leading nowhere. Psalm 56:13 says “For you have delivered my soul from death, yes my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” 

As we walk in assurance, also walk bravely wherever you go. As Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Normality is a paved road. It’s comfortable to walk on, but no flowers grow on it.” Class, I hope you find beauty and difference on future unpaved roads. I love you all.