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Oscar Word cap and gown photo.

On behalf of the graduating class of 2024, welcome to the culmination of our efforts, our greatest achievement. Or, if not the greatest, then certainly the most time-consuming. Our debt to you, our families, communities, faculty, representatives, loved ones, supporters, and guides, can never be repaid. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for everything you’ve done.

And already I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Enough of the formalities; can we just get this over with?” I know Taylor has remarked more than once, and I quote, “Can’t we just get our diplomas on some random Tuesday afternoon?” 

Understandable. But, at the same time, isn’t that a little strange? All the time and effort, and all the financial and emotional stress that we’ve put in deserves to be celebrated a little, right? It’s quite the contradiction that after all the waiting we’ve done thus far, we can’t seem to bear another hour to reminisce.

For better or worse, that’s life. It’s full of contradictions. Consider how often kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up. Yeah, ask the unemployed crayon-muncher; that’ll bring something worthwhile. Even now, as we stand on this stage, we’re just big kids. We may have learned a little more about the world and even picked up a job along the way, but that doesn’t mean we know what we’re getting ourselves into.

And as we graduate and move on to the next stage of our lives, many of us choose to embrace perhaps the most egregious contradiction that is higher education. Despite our ignorance, we commit ourselves to an education and subsequent career that we really know nothing about. 

That privilege of gambling on our futures doesn’t come cheap, either. Not only do we take on thousands of dollars in debt, but we take that debt while promising, “I’m going to spend the next four years partying with this money rather than getting a job.” The lenders don’t seem to see a contradiction there, but I certainly do.

For those of us who decide to forgo higher education and join the workforce, the contradictions don’t cease. In the short term, we forsake our youth for the sake of hard work, and in the long term, we neglect to attain an education that grants higher paying careers. In short, we choose to work hard now so that we can work hard later.

Okay, now I need to find a way to make this sound positive. When looking to the future, it might seem like there’s no right answer. On the contrary, I propose that there is no wrong answer either. Not really. As long as we keep living, there’s no mistake we can’t recover from. Every single person in this room has your back; with that much help, you’d have to put together quite the plan to intentionally ruin your life. If you have that kind of discipline, just skip that whole bit about intentionally ruining your life and you’ll be fine. 

The key deciding factor on success isn’t who your parents are, what you major in, how high you score on tests, or even who you know. Rather, the single most important thing you can do right now is to be resilient. I’ve written a ten-page research paper on the topic of resilience, so while it might sound shallow to say, “All that matters is that you keep trying and stay positive,” I promise you it’s true. 

Be adaptable and understand that maybe things won’t make sense. The future might look dark, but even if you have to walk through the center of the Earth, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you.

by Oscar Word, Valedictorian, Bryce Valley High School

Feature image caption: Oscar Word, one of Bryce Valley High School’s 2024 Valedictorians. Courtesy of BVHS.

Read more Bryce Valley speeches in Forward with Determination by Bradi Gates, Let Yourself Be Happy by Skyler Ott and Three Things I’ve Learned from this Journey by Gracie Wiseman.