This is the speech that Nicole Pugliese, Peekskill resident and Harvey School valedictorian, gave at the Harvey School graduation ceremony, June 7.
Welcome ladies and gentleman, chair of the board, Mr. Fenstermacher, faculty, family, friends, and fellow graduates. Thank you everyone for coming today in celebration of the seniors. All of you have played significant roles in shaping our futures. Your incredible support has helped us in our experiences, and we couldn’t have gotten this far without any of you. The group that we are all here for today is remarkable. I stand proudly as a representative of this irreplaceable grade. Each of us holds our own individual enthusiasms and extraordinary talents; together, we make the class of 2012. We’re often known as the “deprived class,” because of missing out on trips and some off campus privileges. We whine a lot: especially about these changes that all happen to occur during our era. But the only reason we complain so much is because we know how much we deserve. This year, Harvey is not graduating students, but graduating heart. A group leaves here, taking with them all of the spirit, triumphs, and honor gained.
I thought about the various ways I could start this speech; I went through several unsuccessful word documents, but the only idea I could come up with was the notion of time. Let’s put that into perspective. There were about one hundred and seventy days of school this year, give or take. Our school day lasts about nine hours, including our after-school activities. That’s about one thousand, five hundred hours spent on the Harvey campus. This number does not include two-hour bus rides to Watkinson, Model UN practices, or Student Council meetings. Nor does it take into account the time we would stay for dinner, the many hours of hanging out in the dorms, or lingering in the commons because, well, there was really no point in going home. We have spent a massive amount of time here, and without a doubt, leaving will cause some separation anxiety. Good thing I have been here for seven years.
When I entered high school, I envisioned my four years with a plan. The objective was simple, really, to work hard and achieve the illustrious end result: college. To me, high school was something that needed to be overcome, a bridge of some sort, which would transport me from youth to adulthood. I thought that if I were devoutly studious, my future would be set. When I hit senior year, College Board got hold of the plan, and after a long awaited e-mail, I found out that I would not be attending a school I assumed I was destined for. The blueprint that I had strategically drawn out wasn’t working anymore, and I kept thinking about what I could have done to change my own outcome.
I then started to reevaluate my perception of high school. Towards the middle of senior year, I realized that my view was tainted. I thought college was the only thing that high school could provide. I had focused too much on the future, and had not appreciated the present; the destination was more important than the journey. It wasn’t about counting down the days until graduation or begging for a term to be over – it was more about savoring it. Every single moment. Because that is what I realized high school is: a collection of extraordinary moments, colored with feelings of growth, awareness, and knowledge. I was wrong to have assumed that these four years were a small diversion from my future. Instead, it was an accumulation of unforgettable memories, distinct to each of us.
We should reflect upon Harvey as the home that has fostered all of our personal accomplishments. This school has fueled all of our memories. It could be the moment lacrosse team beat King in overtime, or when Girls’ Soccer won HVAL in penalty kicks, when the chorus won silver in Annapolis, or when Oklahoma completely filled the Black Box. Perhaps a more personal moment, like scoring a goal in the championship game, or reading a piece aloud for writers group. Each of us holds a special part of Harvey in our own hearts. In a classroom, on the field, or in the rink: here is where all of our passions started, where each of us felt important. One day in Mrs. Mahony’s AP English class, we were discussing the idea of roots: how is each person affected by where he or she comes from? She began to speak about her childhood growing up in Long Island. She left long ago, and had found a different place to call home. “But,” she said, “I can say this: out of all of the radio stations in my car, I still have one local Long Island station.” Today is the day we move on to different places in the world. We have college stickers on our cars, and new jerseys to be worn. Yet, just like Mrs. Mahony, we will never be able to forget our first home. Our own personal ‘Harvey station’ will resound silently within our own hearts.
Starting in about February, Mr. Lazzaro began the anticipated countdown. He would say, “This is the last advisor meeting of February, let’s soak it in people,” or, “Big day, last Thursday in March.” His sentimental sarcasm was annoying. Every week there was something pointless that he used to mark senior year ending. I would roll my eyes at his jokes, but he was right. The days were flying by more quickly, and though I grew more excited, I was also scared. I would be lying if I said I didn’t fear leaving high school. It’s not that I’m afraid of what’s going to happen, but of what will not exist anymore. Each of us has to let go of this place that has built us. I walk into the commons now feeling a little like a foreigner, wishing I could once again sit down with the people I would see every single day. Here, we feel astonishingly safe. We have developed a level of comfort and identity, and walk the halls as superhero seniors – accomplished and humbled. Though another school has accepted us as their own, we take with us memories, and leave behind our legacies.
My blueprint never worked out, and I’m pretty glad that it didn’t. Otherwise I wouldn’t have stopped to appreciate the little moments that made my senior year so special. It all happened for a reason, and looking back now, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m going to Michigan – that is where my true destiny lies, and Harvey has gotten me there. All of our goals scored, all of the laughs in frees, all of the time spent with my senior class. I’ll keep it with me. We leave here with unique purposes, and take with us our originality.
One day on a bus ride shared with the baseball team, I was talking to Mr. Halewicz. I told him on my senior page I had included an excerpt from a Whitman poem, which I knew was one of his favorites. After I read him the passage, he said that he had written something similar on his own page, except it was a Tom Petty quote. Though I do love Whitman, I think Tom says the idea a little more sharply:
“It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, time to get going.”
It is not my duty as a valedictorian to stand here and preach; I am just a student, the same as my classmates, waiting for the future, eager for my dreams to begin. Therefore, I cannot pretend as though I have any wholehearted advice for us, or an inspirational one-liner to carry. All I know is this: I am a member of a sensational class, and each and every one of us is outstanding. We can look back on all of our conquests with pride, knowing how hard we worked for it all. We each hold a sweeping amount of potential energy, waiting to be released, and I say beware to any college or team we approach. All of the experiences, both good and bad, have brought us to the threshold of our greater selves. My teachers, our teachers, were our pedestrian compasses. ‘Graduate’ means to complete a study, but ‘commencement’ means to begin. And so today we commence to our future – scared, proud, certain. Harvey is forever in my soul, but these graduates are forever tattooed in my heart.