Senior Speeches: Nic Zacharewski ’19

February 26, 2019

I suddenly realized my life was expanding beyond that box of Frosted Flakes.

Each year, seniors at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School deliver a speech to their peers on a topic of their choosing in the Newhall Auditorium. Often equal parts clever and moving, emotional and personal, each speech offers a glimpse into the lives, experiences, struggles, and triumphs of SSM seniors.

Throughout the 2018-19 school year, we will share these speeches with the SSM community and hope that you enjoy the humor, wisdom, and powerful reflections conveyed by our senior students.

I had my box of cereal, and the thought of leaving it behind scared me. I was the fourteen-year-old kid who ate the same breakfast every single day: Frosted Flakes and two pieces of toast with grape jelly. It was just me and Tony the Tiger at the breakfast table every morning, and I liked it that way. Taking risks was not part of my DNA. When I played with my friends and they would “ding dong ditch” the neighbors, I would hang back while they pulled their pranks. So when I accepted an offer to play hockey at a prep school in Minnesota, 600 miles away from home, my family and friends were stunned.

The offer from Shattuck-St. Mary’s School was unexpected. In April 2016, I visited the campus and tried out for their hockey program. Every day afterwards, I asked my dad if he’d heard anything about my application. Then, in late May, he shared the news: there were spots for two defenseman in the hockey program, but I was ranked third. I was devastated. It is every hockey player’s dream to attend Shattuck and play on a prep team.

This meant that I would be staying home, attending the local high school, and playing on my old hockey team. Then in mid August, one phone call changed everything. A player had left the program, and I was being offered his spot on the team. This unexpected development turned my world upside down. A decision had to be made quickly because classes were starting in only two weeks.

Everyone in my family had their own take on this last-minute opportunity. My grandmother was horrified at the thought of my moving to a boarding school at the age of fourteen to play hockey. My dad saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance, while my mom cried incessantly. My older sister, who was about to leave for her freshman year of college, was shocked that I was even considering the offer. I suddenly realized my life was expanding beyond that box of Frosted Flakes.

I arrived at Shattuck with high expectations for both my academic and athletic performance. I fantasized about making the Prep team and traveling to play in national championship games. However, reality soon intruded on my dreams.  At first, I struggled with the academic rigor, and I did not make the Prep teams. For the first time ever, I had taken a risk, and it felt like I had made a huge mistake. I had to reconcile myself to the reality that my carefully thought out plans were not going to materialize. I was disappointed in myself - and I thought I was a disappointment to my family.

The truth is, being successful in hockey would have confined me to my box. It was only through experiencing challenge, disappointment, and failure that I was instead compelled to explore greater opportunities. I developed an interest in Latin, became a member of the Quiz Bowl team, and volunteered as Prom Committee President. By opening myself up to new opportunities, I found new interests and realized there’s so much more to life than playing hockey.

I wish I could go back in time and talk to my 14-year-old self and reassure him not to be afraid of the risks that are part of leaving his box behind. I would also tell him that taking those risks may result in profound disappointment and feelings of failure, but buried within the uncertainty are the seeds of new opportunities. These may include not only discovering new interests, but also developing into a more confident and adventurous person. Finally, I would tell my 14-year-old self that none of this is possible if he remains seated at that morning table, eating from that same box of Frosted Flakes.


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