The following is a transcript of valedictorian Scott Kelly’s speech Saturday to the Amherst Steele High School Class of 2017.
Congratulations graduates, our four-year marathon is finally over — a marathon that began 1,360 days ago when over 330 of us stepped up to the starting line on that first day of school.
We were nervous, excited, and some of us even a little fearful. We knew we were about to embark on one of the longest and toughest races of our lives. That first 7:30 a.m. bell was our starting pistol and all together we took the first step. At first, we began clumsily, but soon enough we all found our stride.
Over the next four years, what started out as a huge pack of faceless freshmen began to separate into meaningful groups. Some of us joined cross country, some soccer; others joined football, marching band, theater, Leo Club, and so much more. We found people who we wanted beside us for the long journey ahead, people who we trusted to keep us on the right path; and they did. Meanwhile, our teachers and parents cheered us on from the sidelines and kept us moving at a steady pace.
Still, we encountered obstacles in our race: sharp turns, steep hills, and uneven ground promised to slow us down but we made it past them. Then, finally, entering our senior year, we turned the last corner and our finish line came into sight. What once seemed so far off to our freshmen selves was now closer than ever.
And now here we are, once again all together, exhausted from our race. Though we have all crossed the same finish line, the journey to this point means something entirely different to each and every one of us. Some of you will look back and remember the late nights spent studying for exams. Others will recall the successes they achieved with their teammates. Some will remember the teachers who helped push them more than anyone else. Some of you won’t remember a single thing you learned in class, but you will remember the relationships you had and the challenges you withstood.
Now we are about to begin the most arduous race of our lives, one that will require more fortitude and preparation than ever before. So, while I can’t speak for any of you, I can impart some of what I have learned through my own races, both literal and metaphorical, over the past four years.
During every race, there inevitably comes a time when you want nothing more than to slow down. This feeling slowly builds and builds until your mind tries to trick you into thinking that you need to slow down. These moments, when you feel you must take a break, are when it is most important to speed up. Because in doing so you set yourself apart from everyone else who felt that same urge to give in that you did, but chose to succumb to it.
You may think and feel that it is impossible but you always have the ability to put more effort into reaching your finish line. But this motivation must come from within yourself, because while your friends, your teachers, and your family can cheer you on as loudly as possible, it all ultimately comes down to your own will to keep pushing on.
There may also be times when you come across a shortcut along your path, a quicker, less painful way to get to the same destination. But if you choose to take that shortcut, you rob yourself of the mental strength and stamina gained from taking the more challenging route and you cheat yourself out of the satisfaction and confidence that comes with the knowledge that you gave everything you possibly could to reach your destination.
These are just a few of the things I have gathered throughout my time at Steele that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Though all of your individual experiences have been different than my own, the lessons we’ve learned and the individuals we’ve grown into during the last four years will remain with all of us for the rest of our lives. So I urge you all to take whatever you have gained from your high school experience and apply it to the myriad of challenges you are sure to face in the coming years. I urge you to never stop challenging what you know and to never stop seeking what you don’t. What you already know will only get you so far; it is what you are going to learn that will allow you to truly prosper.
Amherst has given us the foundation of knowledge and experience needed to achieve our own conception of success and it is now up to us to build our future upon it. Let us go forth intent on continuing the successes we have so far accomplished.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this anonymous quote that I believe very simply embodies the path to achieving your goals: “If you want something that you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.”
Congratulations, Class of 2017!