Good morning family, faculty, and friends.
I pulled my first all-nighter a couple of days ago trying to think of a common bond we all share, a quality that links us as a class. But after many dizzying hours, I realized that to force us all into a single category would be insulting. Each of us has crawled, walked, run, sprinted different paths to this stage today. That’s what makes us so spectacular, and I hope you’ll reflect on your own stories while I tell mine.
When I still lived in America, my parents would bring my brother and me to the Hudson Bay Buffet every few months or so. It was fifteen dollars for all-you-can-eat “Chinese Food”. So basically, fried chicken, onion rings, ice cream, fries, stuff like that. Anyway, to sell the authenticity of the restaurant, they had these Chinese zodiac placemats. On mine, I read that since I was born in the Year of the Dog, I was prone to being a terrible worrier. I didn’t think much of it at the time since according to the placemat, my brother, a Monkey, was “fun-loving, cheerful, and energetic,” and that definitely was not right.
But after that I started noticing the little things. I would always spend far too long dwelling in the worst case scenario for everything. I had to get up in the middle of the night to check if the front door was locked. I flexed my wrist a lot because I was afraid that the blood vessels there would break and somehow flexing my wrist would help, and I shuffled through my Yu-Gi-Oh cards frequently because I was convinced my brother had stolen some of them.
Then high school started, and things got progressively worse. I became increasingly anxious and paranoid about everything; friends, insecurities, college, academics, sports, music. Near the beginning of senior year, I was told that the severity of my anxiety was borderline medical. There were some days when I just couldn’t keep it together, and knowledge of my condition didn’t help. It was a constant stomachache, headache, heartache. Sometimes the anxiety got so bad that I couldn’t breathe. Most days felt overwhelming, like they would never end.
But acknowledging the problem helped, and the dark days faded into brighter ones. And it taught me that you are your own best friend and worst enemy. Like any enemy, know yourself. Know your weaknesses and overcome them. Don’t let yourself get in your own way. But like a best friend, love yourself. Never give in, never betray yourself, never let your fears become you.
There is inevitable adversity ahead for all of us, but the way to get through is to just keep moving forward. Your past is a part of you, but you are not your past. Mistakes serve only to propel us forward. I know it seems obvious, but just keep loving yourself, keep on going and you’ll make it through.
And when the road gets lonely, look to friends. I definitely couldn’t have gotten to this point without mine. All the four hour talks at Baskin Robbins, the unproductive flexes, the surprise birthdays, the late night chicken runs, that kept me sane, and laughing, and it made me feel truly alive. To all my teachers, and to Mr. Polley, Ms. Nordmeyer, and Ms. Beebe, I don’t know how you feel about me calling you my friends, but thank you for inspiring me, helping me, and treating me like a person instead of someone whose head you want to ruthlessly stuff knowledge into. To anyone whom I’ve wronged or has wronged me, I forgive you and I hope you’ll forgive me. And lastly, to my family. To my brother Jamie, who gave this speech three years ago, thank you for showing me that all things are possible. To my mama and papa, you were always there for me, even when I was frustrating. You loved and supported me unconditionally, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. Although vertically I haven’t grown all that much, I like to think I stand a little taller now because of all of you.
I hope you’ll all keep looking to the future. Be excited and terrified and in awe of it, but don’t be afraid to slow down either. Don’t go so fast that you fail to appreciate the things around you, the simple things. The smell of rain, the way the sunset lights the sky on fire. A conversation with friends. A stranger’s smile. A hug from a loved one. A goodbye, a hello. Today is one of those days. The world rages on around us but today we stop. Not to dwell in old regrets or desperately cling to childhood, but to celebrate the incredible journey we’ve all made together. The adversity that made us stronger, the mistakes that propelled us forward, the fears that we conquered, the friends and all the good times that we’ll cherish.
Congratulations, Class of 2013, we finally made it, and it has been such an honor to make this journey with you.
Valedictorian address by Dianna Li, Shanghai American School Pudong Class of 2013