Graduation Speech from Class of '20 President Isabella Lelis: We Can't Control What Happens, But We Can Control the Way We Respond

LelisIzzy Lelis, SHS Class of 2020 Senior Class PresidentThis speech was given by SHS Class of 2020 President Isabella Lelis at the virtual graduation ceremony on June 23, 2020: Good afternoon Class of 2020!

I want to start by saying how much I wish we could all be together right now. I've been looking forward to this moment of speaking to you all on this special day since I was elected as your class president. This longing of mine increased even more after I attended the graduation for the Class of 2019 last year. On that day as I watched the crowd of graduates, all I remember thinking was “that’s going to be us in one year.” One year. I thought to myself at that moment that we only had one year left to make our final mark at Scarsdale High School, to relish in the relationships we’ve built over the years with both our classmates and teachers, to experience all the milestones and events we’ve been looking forward to, and I remember feeling what most of you are probably feeling right now - a mixed emotion of excitement, determination, and yet a bit of sadness. Little did I know back then that not only does one year go by so fast, but that it also only takes an instant in that one year for things to change drastically.

Before second semester, most of us were so stressed with schoolwork, college applications, our last SATs and ACTs that we did not have the time to appreciate what we have now lost. The little moments of high school. I know most of you are wishing you stayed in your seats in you final class on March 6th, our last day in the building, just a little longer after the bell rang, wishing you spent your time walking in the hallway and looking up at each other rather than staring at your phones and rushing out of the building to your cars because of marker tag, wishing that wave or conversation with that one friend or teacher in the hallway in person wasn’t your last, wishing you could eat one last time in the library before getting caught of course, and just wishing you hadn’t taken these little moments for granted.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken so much from us seniors and from our world as a whole, but it also has taught and made us so much stronger. I can say with full certainty that from now on we will take full advantage of each opportunity we are given and all of the time we have. We have learned that we must always appreciate and never take for granted the present, from the biggest moments to the little things that happen behind the scenes. From now on, when I think of our class, I will think of these lessons we’ve learned, but even more, I will think of resilience. We faced many challenges, from transitioning to zooms classes to coping with tremendous uncertainty and even not being able to sit next to each other on Dean Field right now, and it is sad that we can’t control what happens. However, we learned that we can control how we respond to what’s happening in a positive way, and we did. We donated our marker tag money to help those affected by COVID-19 and to first responders, we found ways to get senior options and our graduation to occur, and we definitely kept in contact through it all in our grade groupme. We sacrificed attending our final speech and debate tournament, taking the field one last time as a raider, being with our friends, for the safety and well being of all, and that should not go unnoticed. We also know that we could not have done it without our teachers, administrators, parents, and family members, who were experiencing the challenges of this pandemic for the first time just like us, and yet still took extra time and care to support us and to make our final moments as a senior so special.

To me, it’s pretty ironic that these final moments are even happening the way they are. Just when we finally have time to sit with one another without the stress of school, we can’t. Just when our cooking and baking skills have improved with this extra time, we can’t invite anyone to try our food. Just when roads have become empty, there really isn’t anywhere open to go. So, because of these contradictory times, I think I’ll drop some irony as well. In a time where I haven’t seen or been physically near any of you, I feel connected and bonded to you all now more than ever. And it’s not only because we faced this pandemic together - we cannot let that be the only thing that defines us- it’s because I’ve had time, as most of you have had, to reflect on everything else we did together. From the moment we walked through Brewster Entrance for the first time to our final, unexpected exit, we all shared certain experiences together: the hard work we put in, both the awkward silence and the booming laughter during a class, the kindness from our faculty and friends, the many gridlocks we attempted to have, the endless trips to Lange’s and Nonni’s - those are the moments we will look back on and cherish following our high school career, and what I want you all to be thinking about right now as we bid farewell to our school.

Few classes will graduate into a world as in need of our help as the one we are about to enter. In a couple of months, most of us, fingers crossed, will be leaving our little bubble of Scarsdale and going to different places across the country and even the globe. I know I’m not older than any of you, I’m barely taller than most, if not all, of you, but I want to give you some advice as you go on into the “real” world. We’ve had the privilege to go to Scarsdale High School, use what you’ve learned, use your voice to speak and stand up for those who can’t, remember those who have lost and sacrificed their lives during this time to help others and follow in their footsteps. Class of 2020, we will forever be bonded and we will leave a lasting legacy of resilience on this school and the classes that are to come. I know I can’t see any of your faces right now, but as I metaphorically look out to all of you watching and think about all of the people in our class, I am confident that we have not only impacted our school and each other, but that we will continue to make an impact on this world, who so deeply needs it. So although we are all going our separate ways, remember deep down, we will always be “all in this together.”