Winder-Barrow High School class of 2021 salutatorian Rachel Morgan gives her speech during the school's graduation ceremony Thursday, May 27. 

Good evening, Class of 2021. There have been a plethora of factors that have culminated to this moment in our lives, and I would be mistaken not to first express my gratitude to the individuals who have made this day possible.

Thank you to all of the administrators, who coordinated each detail of this event, as well as committed countless hours to the advancement of our education. Thank you to the teachers who have invested time and care toward our endeavors. Thank you to the parents and other leaders within our school community for all they have contributed toward our futures. And thank you to my peers, who I am sure have long awaited this day of celebration and commencement due to our hard work.

Many of you have known each other since elementary school, since your first day of kindergarten. Many of you have also moved here throughout the years. Nonetheless, each of us has accomplished 12 years of education. Despite the days we may have felt no motivation, we have endured and this event is the recognition of our persistence and diligence. Our paths may be dividing now, but I am assured that each of us will embark on a future that is full of enriching experiences; whether we decide to attend a technical school, university, the workforce, or otherwise. When we receive our diplomas, we may find ourselves disappointed that our high school careers have been reduced to a single sheet of paper. That sheet, however, signifies the late nights, the tears shed, the days we decided to procrastinate just a little longer, the memories made with dear friends, the triumphant victories of a sports team, and so much more.

As middle schoolers, we were told the year we would be graduating. The prospect of 2021 seemed so far away and almost impossible. For certain, we did not envision a pandemic altering our lives. And yet, the year is here and the day is today. A pandemic that forced our hectic and nonstop lifestyles to pause is what it took for several of us to realize that there is value in enjoying a break and spending quality time with those we love and care for. Though we can step away from our experience that has lasted over a year now with hopelessness, regret, and bitterness, I urge you to change your narrative. The priceless candid moments of our lives happen often when we are not paying attention, and if we are not careful, they will pass us by. Though it may not seem so right now, we will look back at this time in our lives with bittersweet fondness.

The snapshots I hope we will carry with us will center around our experiences and the details that make each of our journeys unique. However, my experience, as I am sure many of you may relate to, has dwelled upon the academic rigor of high school. I don't want to negate all of the dedication and discipline that several of my peers have displayed, as is evident by the staggering amount of Honors graduates in our class. Still, I want to emphasize that though a student may not have a title, a high ranking, bunches of cords, or the highest GPA, their high school diploma does not hold any less weight than those who do. There is freedom in the acceptance that high school is a miniscule time in the grand scheme of our life. We must not let our performance define our worth or somehow set our future in stone. It is never too late to begin again, and it is so refreshing that we have this opportunity to wipe the slate clean.

Life is multifaceted and success does not look the same for everyone. Our life is enriched by the priorities we choose to dedicate ourselves toward. Whether that be family and the memories you share with those you love and cherish, or if it is an arduous effort to conquer in a field you are passionate about, or perhaps a healthy balance of both. There is beauty and value within each individual I see as I look out to a crowd of my peers that is not dependent upon a number they have been assigned or a score they have received.

Intelligence is defined as, “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” There are many capacities in which intelligence can be applied. One can be emotionally intelligent, physically intelligent in sports, artfully intelligent, musically gifted, or mathematically innovative. Yet nowhere in the widely accepted definition of intelligence does it mention test scores, college acceptance, or academic ranking. It also does not define intelligence as an inherent gift that is unattainable. On the contrary, education is a never-ending cycle. Knowledge is a virtue to be harnessed and cultivated, and no matter the path we may adhere to, I am confident that we will gain maturity and valuable lessons. From this moment on within our lives, our knowledge of interpersonal connections, perseverance in hardship, and development of character will be exponentially enhanced. That is what a simple score fails to reflect: the strength of your character. Standardized tests and expectations of productivity often eliminate individuality. The care we extend to those around us far outlive the accomplishments we may accrue. Maya Angelou beautifully articulated that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This notion is one that we can rest in, as it does not invalidate the achievements of our peers, but rather, it shifts the focus toward an existence that transcends any pressures to succeed at the expense of one’s mental health.

What we will remember most about our peers is not their cumulative GPAs or their SAT scores, but rather the compassion and selflessness they showed us. If you gain nothing from this speech, I hope I can leave you with this one assurance: that you are allowed to do things differently. There are many expectations that we may put on ourselves or are put upon us from others, but at the end of the day, you must give yourself grace knowing that you did your best.

Although intellect is far more profound than a test score, there will be tests within your life that will be career and future altering, such as the MCAT, the NCLEX, or the LSAT. The reminder you must tell yourself, however, is that though your education may be influenced by such a vital test, it is neither a reflection of your character nor the end of the world if you fail. Failures are the catalyst to growth. If something is truly important and aligned with your passions, it is worth doing more than once if need be. So please don’t mistake my critique of scores and grades as markers of our success or intelligence to imply that they are completely meaningless. I am simply provoking you to look at the bigger picture of your education and your life.

After today, the responsibility falls on us. Our wonderful teachers, administrators, and parents have prepared us for what is ahead, and we must apply what we have learned. I have experienced unmatchable kindness, originality, humor, and class through my many peers during these four years. I truly believe that the Class of 2021 represents Winder-Barrow well and upholds the attributes that are characteristic of a Bulldogg. We must take the time to celebrate ourselves. We can take pride in our accomplishments and victories we have achieved. However, we must also look to the future with hopeful expectations, and I have tremendous faith in the aspirations we will pursue.


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