July 31st will forever be a very special day in one Excelsior student’s life. For this was the day she accomplished something she never thought she would – she graduated high school. Growing up, Melissa had always struggled in school, especially when it came to reading and writing. In high school, she was so far behind in these subjects that she often considered giving up and at times she did. But in the end, with the support and encouragement of her parents, she persevered and accomplished something great. On July 31, 2015, Melissa, 18, proudly walked across the stage, received her diploma and turned her tassle as a high school graduate.
As Pomp and Circumstance played in the background, Melissa walked into the Excelsior auditorium to a room full of friends and family, eagerly awaiting her graduation ceremony. As the only graduate of the Fall 2015 class, Melissa was honored to lead her crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterwards, Melissa took her seat to listen to the graduation speakers, all the while exchanging tearful glances with her parents in the front row.
The ceremony began with Diane Kleinschnitz from Excelsior High School, introducing the theme of Melissa’s graduation, “Reach for the Stars”, which Melissa chose herself. Diane was impressed by this choice, commenting that this choice of theme proves that Melissa knows where she’s been, who she is now and that she has great aspirations for her future.
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within in you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
– Harriet Tubman
Next, John Farnam, Excelsior Board of Directors member, gave a heartfelt and genuine speech written specifically for Melissa. John spoke candidly about how honored he was to be there to celebrate with her and how special and significant the day was for her and her family. In perfect alignment with the reach for the stars theme, John began his speech with an analogy: “Ideals are like stars – you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the sea-bearing man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guide, and you follow them”. He encouraged Melissa to reach for the stars in everything she does because “if your sights are not set high enough you aren’t living the beautiful, fulfilling life you were destined to live. Don’t ever settle.”
John challenged Melissa to change the world by educating, inspiring and empowering young people to pursue an education, a career and a lifetime fueled by purpose and passion. He told Melissa, “You hold the power to help transform young lives which in turn transforms our communities and our world. You are a key catalyst for positive change and the champion of the issues that affect us all – education, the arts, healthcare and human rights”. Infusing his speech with a little humor, John addressed what Melissa was likely thinking – “Whoa – wait a minute – I am just graduating high school! I’m not running to be the first woman president of the United States!” Admitting that this was a lot to ask of a high school graduate, John told Melissa that even so, if she’s not setting her sights to become the woman to inspire all those things in others, she is not reaching for the stars. To reach for the stars, Melissa must “always be a bright, shining light in the night sky acting as a beacon for others to follows. There will be days when clouds dim your shimmer, but believe that they will pass and they shall. You will shine brightly.”
John concluded his speech with a well-known rhyme:
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.
After graduation speeches, the crowd was moved by Melissa’s graduation slideshow during which she gave a speech full of humility, inspiration and gratitude. She thanked her friends, family and therapists for being there for her when she needed someone to push her to do what they all knew she could do. She was especially thankful for her mom and dad for their encouragement throughout her academic journey and for watching her blossom into the beautiful young lady she is today. She finished her speech by inspiring her peers and everyone in the crowd to persevere. She said, “if I can overcome [my struggles in reading and writing], you all can overcome anything as well.”
Melissa – Here’s to you! May you always follow your dreams and reach for the stars. Congratulations!