Tomorrow you will participate in a ceremony at one of this city’s most prestigious cultural institutions to celebrate your graduation from high school. I am so proud of you for making it to this point and for the choices you have made in order to get here. And I so respect the decisions you have come to in planning out the next few years of your life. I know that situations change, and yours probably will, too, but you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, and you’re off to a great start.
From the very beginning, you knew your own mind. One might even say it started on the day you were born, arriving earlier than the doctors predicted. “Come on,” you must have said to yourself. “It’s time to get started.”
From a very early age, you displayed a talent for performance and attached yourself to artistic endeavors as a means of learning and as a means of expression. In those earliest of school plays, you appeared at ease with yourself on stage and took joy in entertaining others. There was a high degree of professionalism instilled in these youthful experiences. While you sometimes chafed at the intensity of practice and rehearsal, you were steadfast. The foundation was being laid for the work to come.
Still in elementary school, you engaged in movie making, learning the technology and script writing skills that you’ve utilized since then to produce projects that would take you through the college application process.
Transitions have always been challenging for you, and in middle school, art seemed to take a hiatus in deference to academics. You chose this highly academic school yourself and exposed yourself to the rigors of the entrance exam and the course of study in order to be with the majority of your friends, but it did come with something of a cost. There were the piano lessons after school for a while, and the summer theater camp, but school was school and not much art was there for you to engage in.
When the time came for you to apply to high school, you chose not to sit for the city’s specialized school exams but instead to focus on auditions for the performing arts schools, I knew you had already discovered a large part of who you are. Through those weekly voice lessons and train rides out to Brooklyn to be coached in acting, not only were you perfecting your natural talents, but you were building character as well. Add to that the experience of auditioning at the city’s top performing arts schools, and you should reflect on how hard you worked to get to this point.
Winning a place in the most competitive of those schools was bittersweet, I know. Your first love was acting and here you were accepted to the vocal studio instead. Working through the disappointment was one of your more challenging battles. Yet, these four years of preparing for and performing at school and by invitation at venues across the city have culminated in an even stronger voice, musically and otherwise.
The college application process was one of the most grueling experiences you could have endured, and yet, what did you do? You wrote a song about it!
As I have applauded each performance, I applaud you now for all you have accomplished to date, and all that is to come. You are intellectually curious and compassionate, and you have skills that you owe to your own perseverance and achievement. Brava!
This week, over 50,000 students will graduate from New York City high schools. While the city will continue to boast of increased graduation rates, we know that we cannot take graduation for granted and that we need to continue to make school more relevant for today’s kids and tomorrow’s. The pressures on today’s school children, teachers and parents are deeply ingrained in the traditions created years ago and impacted on by the reforms of the present day. There are shining examples of schools that are breaking these molds and focusing on technology-enhanced, truly learner-centric and project-based learning methodologies. I look forward to the day when alternatives become the norm.