Saturday, June 10, 2017

Speaking From the Heart at Pottstown Graduation

Photo by Evan Brandt
Pottstown High School Class of 2017 Valedictorian MaSofia Sosa, left, and Salutatorian Dylan Brandt after commencement Thursday evening.

Today we continue our tradition of publishing the commencement speeches of Pottstown High School's valedictorian and salutatorian.

This is a particular pleasure to me this year as I know them both, one of them being my son Dylan, this year's Salutatorian.

He and MaSofia have been on the same academic track for a few years now.

Both were in the gifted program (still getting used to talking about their high school careers in the past tense); both took classes at Penn State Berks Campus, a slew of AP classes, an on-line college English class from Brigham Young University and both participated in the TRIP Initiative -- a joint outreach effort of Fox Chase Cancer Center and Temple University.

Both spent a good part of last summer riding on the train from Norristown to do do real research in Temple science labs and learning how to be better scientists -- an experience they both speak about often.

Photo by Steve Anspach
Dylan and Kenny were the only seniors on this year's tennis team.
So my wife Karen and I had the pleasure of spending time with MaSofia often and she is a smart young woman with a great sense of humor. Pottstown could not ask for a better valedictorian. 

And, perhaps more importantly, she is one of Dylan's best friends.

So the rivalry between them, what there was of it, was very friendly -- so friendly that they were even sharing their final speeches ahead of time looking for pointers from the other.

In the end only about a point separated their final GPAs. 

I'm told by those in the know this was one of the closest years in recent school history in making this decision and I would be remiss without also mentioning Kenil Patel -- "Kenny" to the rest of us -- who crossed the line just a half point behind Dylan, as well as class President Nyles Rome who was close on Kenny's heels.

Photo by Danielle McCoy
Kenil Patel, left, and Nyles Rome, both student members
of the Pottstown School Board, also had GPAs high
enough to be considered for the two top spots.
Kenny and Dylan were both the only seniors on the tennis team this year and both participated in a leadership program at Gettysburg College when they were just out of middle school.

We first got to know him on the ride out to Adams County and have enjoyed his company and his work ethic ever since. 

I will confess I was quite surprised -- pleasantly so -- when I interviewed him about his time as a student member on the school board and lobbying for fairer education funding in Harrisburg recently. His passion and frustration at the unfairness of it boiled up and it was evident he cares for his school and wants the best for it.

As for Nyles, I don't know him well, but I have seen his leadership abilities on the school board and among his peers and, perhaps more than most, he seems to have taken advantage of the opportunities with which he has been presented by Pottstown Schools.

Part of me wanted them to all give speeches as they are all poised to make great contributions to a world that sorely needs thoughtful, educated people. But that was not my decision and I'm glad I didn't have to make it.

But enough reminiscing, here are the speeches, along with video recordings of them for those who didn't have tickets ...

Valedictorian Speech by MaSofia Sosa

Good evening. Teachers, students, parents, relatives, friends, and the Class of 2017, It’s an honor to be here with you all.
MaSofia delivers the Valedictory Address.
I want to start off by thanking everyone who has helped me get this far. Thank you to my family for shaping me to be the person I am today. Thank you to all my teachers and mentors, especially Mr. Benfield, Mme Cherneskie, and Mr. Decker, who’ve put up with me for all 4 years of high school.
Shoutout to all my friends, and my second family: Yuliza, Heather, Dylan, Kim, Ashley, Gia, Courteney, and Zoe. They say that the friends you make in high school aren’t the friends that stick with you forever. So what. If I had to choose a group of people to always be with me, it would be you guys. You have believed in me and encouraged me endlessly when I couldn’t do it myself. You’ve helped me open up and laugh louder and harder than I ever have before.There’s nothing I can say that can sum up how indispensable all of you are to me, except that, if you don’t keep in touch, I swear I will actually hunt you down.

Finally, I thank everyone here for their time.
Now, I address you, Class of 2017.
Look at how we’ve changed. No longer are we tiny kindergartners, antsy middle schoolers, squirrelly freshmen. We have collectively become smarter, more mature, and more confident. Through the years we’ve all cried, laughed, gained and lost friends, experienced the lowest of failures and the loftiest of successes.
Honestly, what could I say, that would do justice for all those years of growth, of hardships, of triumph, of meaning?

And now, many of us look forward to an uncertain future. We come from different walks of life but what unites us today is that same uncertain yet limitless future that is finally here within our grasps. It is now up to us to take this fresh glob of clay, this unchiseled piece of marble, and mold it into a masterpiece, a life of meaning.
Some of you may be wondering: What do I want to do now? Doubtless, all of us have been asked what we wanted to be when we “grow up”. Over the years, our answers to that classic question--dermatologist, scientist, artist, whatever it may be--have changed and evolved at the same pace that we ourselves have evolved. With time comes clarity. Like the rain, time washes away the grit and grime of the mind to reveal deep and profound truths about ourselves. When I was younger, I wanted to study mythology, then become a vet, an artist, and now, an engineer.
Standing here now, with all of you, it’s suddenly become clear to me what it is I want more than anything else… to go home and sleep. For 3… weeks.
Of course, I’m half-joking. Right now, I aspire to be an engineer. If it were to change in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised. To absolutely know what you want to do in high school is exceedingly rare. Many of you likely don’t know--and that’s perfectly fine.
Class of 2017, you do not need to be worried about what lies ahead. Class of 2017, you are resilient, charismatic, and brave.We have sacrificed much and outlasted everything life has thrown at us thus far-- and we came out victorious. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Be proud of who you are.
Class of 2017, if there was one piece of advice I could humbly give to you, it would be to be unafraid to do what makes you happy and proud. To do what makes you capable of looking every morning at that person in the mirror, or into the eyes of the important people in your life and proudly say “Look. I did that.”

For all of us, today is a day we can look proud and say “Look. I did that.”
Let’s celebrate. We’re graduating! It’s finally here! Go out and thank everyone who made this possible.

Sleep, yell, sing, shout, binge-watch netflix and drink all the juice boxes you want. You deserve it.
Remember: History has its eyes on you. Stare back unflinchingly and march fearlessly into a future filled with happiness. Thank you and CONGRATULATIONS TO POTTSTOWN HIGH SCHOOL’S CLASS OF 2017.

Salutatorian Speech by Dylan Brandt

Good evening everyone, let’s say some thank you’s. Firstly, thanks to everyone for coming out.

Thank you to my family, my neighbors, my classmates, everyone out in the audience and anyone who helped me along my way.
Thank you to my parents for waking me up and making sure I’m only a little late to school. In all seriousness, Mom and Dad, you give me the motivation I need to keep going and challenge myself. I appreciate everything you do for me, even if my messy room may not show it.
Dylan at the podium
Now, in preparing for this part of the speech, I tried to list all my teachers, but all I really succeeded in doing, was getting sad and missing them already.
Whether I was learning the days of the week, arguing over every single question I got wrong, or even crying in your classes (yes sometimes from the class itself, Mrs. Mohr I’m sorry Thermochemistry got me), I would not be standing behind this podium if not for my teachers. Each of you is a role model to me in different ways and taught me an incalculable number of things. I don’t know how to adequately thank you for everything you’ve done, so I will go out in the world and try to make good use of your hard work.
And of course, there are my friends. To all whom I call my friend: I love you, you are family to me and always will be. The friends who I have made in my high school years are just that – my family.
I may not have any siblings or Sunday dinners at grandma’s house to look back on, but I have family in all senses of the word. Those who will ask what’s wrong because they care, who will cheer you up when they see you’re down, who you will fight with half the time and want to hug the other half. Is there any better definition of family? A sentiment which I hope every graduate shares tonight.
I have made so many memories in my fourteen years that I will treasure for the rest of my life, be it in Italy, Disneyworld, or right down the street at Lincoln Elementary. So, thank you to my family, both blood and bonded, whether you are in the audience, a member of the class, or out in the world, you will always remain in my heart.
I now speak directly to the members of my class. Congratulations guys, we made it! We too few, who lost a third of our class along the way, are finally at graduation day. I have long admired the unity that I have seen in our class. Despite any petty squabbles or difference of opinion, when it matters, we band together. During spirit week, athletics and in getting our lights back (even though we’re just a little late) we set aside difference and worked together.
This is a trait our country needs now more than ever in its divisive political climate. Our generation is being handed a patch-work world coming apart at the seams, rife with hatred, hunger, and hardship, and it’s ours to fix. We must prove wrong the adults whose favorite past-time is bemoaning our generation, “millennials this, millennials that.”
I’m not asking you all to run for president (except maybe you Emmanuel), or to start a non-profit, but I am asking you to keep doing what you already do. Work together, work hard, be kind, help your neighbor, and we will succeed. I wholeheartedly believe this because I wholeheartedly believe in all of us.

1 comment:

  1. Great speeches! As a proud PHS graduate from 1974, I'm pleased to see the high standards of today's graduates.