Graduation speech by Kayleigh O'Brien of St. Joseph-Ogden High School

Today's featured graduation speech was written by Kayleigh O'Brien of St. Joseph-Ogden High School. She gave the speech at the school's May 20, 2012 graduation ceremony.

If you spoke at your graduation ceremony this year, please email me at meg(at) with the text of your speech, a photo and information about your plans for next year, and I'll be happy to feature it.


Blog PhotoAs you, fellow graduates of the class of 2012, sit here together for the last time, a whirlwind of thoughts is going through your heads. Thoughts of the friends you won’t see for a long time, the grad parties to come, the looming future that is now just within reach and above all: summer.

But, before you all completely abandon any academic thought for the next three months, or longer, I have one piece of advice for you: remember. Don’t let all of the information and advice you’ve gathered in the past four years go to waste. And I’m not just talking about how to draw the unit circle or the effects of a totalitarian government.

Though what you’ve learned in class is important, what you’ve learned outside is even more so.

In the past four years, we’ve all gotten to know each other in a way that helped us learn about ourselves and in a way that has forced us to grow.  By interacting with one another, we’ve learned so much. We’ve learned to accept others; that you don’t have to wear Hollister to be cool; that being cool doesn’t even mean anything.

We’ve learned that just because people are different from us, it makes them neither better nor worse than us. We have learned that we are not defined by what sport we play in or what activity we participate in.  Each and every one of us has been given a four-year-long crash course on our peers, our reality and ourselves. And we need to remember it.

My personal crash course began the first day of school our freshman year. When we first started high school, I was terrified of the upper classmen and avoided all possible contact with them. But I think a part of me as a freshman wanted someone to notice me. I didn’t care how or why, I just wanted someone to see me long enough to tell me who I was, because I had no idea myself.

This, of course, never happened. But this extended experience of waiting and hoping for someone to define me helped me learn the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned: a lesson we all should have learned: That the only person with the ability and right to define you, is you.

This lesson, and the thousands of others that we’ve learned from making good and bad decisions, happened outside the classroom. They happened in hallways, in locker rooms, at football games and at marching band practice. They happened every day for the last four years of our lives, of my life, in these halls with all of you.

We have all learned lessons and skills together that have helped us to grow into who we are today and we need to always remember them. We need to remember every decision, whether it be good or bad, and every outcome, whether it be a reward or a punishment.  We need to remember what we’ve learned.

I know that everyone’s specific experience of our years at SJO has been different, but I know that we’ve all changed. When I first walked into this school, I was horribly shy. I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye, I thought that all upperclassmen hated me because I was a freshman, and I almost passed out the day that I bumped into a senior football player in the hallway.

But as time went on and I adjusted to high school life, I learned that I was afraid of an imaginary enemy that I had created. High school got easier and easier as we all grew up until finally, here we are. And even now as we enjoy our hard earned accomplishment, we need to remember what it took to get here, and how much we have grown in the process.

Now, if you’re still in the typical high school mindset, you might be thinking: Is there going to be a test on this? Well, I have some news for you. There isn’t going to be a final on this unit, there isn’t a minimum grade or any instant gratification from learning, but there will be a test.

And- to paraphrase the author John Green- The test will measure whether you are an informed and productive citizen of the world and it will take place in schools and restaurants and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football and while scrolling through your Twitter feed.

The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages and it will judge whether you’ll be swayed by empty political rhetoric. The test will last your entire life and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, make your life yours. And everything – everything – will be on it.

Thank you.

Kayleigh O'Brien plans to attend Knox College in Galesburg in the fall.

Photo submitted by Jim O'Brien.

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