Each year, seniors and postgraduates 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 usually work to be what others want me to be. It’s gotten me this far in life, but this year flipped that strategy on its head.
During my junior year of high school, I had to leave the private school I’d gone to for so long. To pursue an education, I spent a year creating my own curriculum and schedule. I decided what I had to read and when I had to get work done. While I got plenty of council from my family, my “classes” were mostly up to me. Then I came here. I went from an warm, unstructured environment on my own to a highly-structured environment with so many classmates. And it was freezing. I doubted I’d last longer than a couple of weeks.
Turns out, I lasted the whole year. But it wasn’t easy. I was so intent on finding my place here and figuring out the school’s system that I forgot the most important person in the entire equation: me. Socially, I forced myself to befriend everyone I came across. I gave people advice and held space for them. I turned into a therapist who worked for free. And I always ended up alone again.
I went crazy with activities. I landed a lead role in the fall play and studied my lines as if my life depended on it. In the Vocal Performance Program, I sang at least 90 minutes a day and struggled with Music Theory. I was cast in an opera, so I made sure to wake up early every weekend and listen to it in order to be fully versed in the show. I even applied to become a French tutor and created a song for a Batman Musical for my Senior Initiative. I vowed to do the very best I could in every activity there was. I took no time to reflect, to introspect, or even to care for myself. I was afraid of falling behind and disappointing everyone.
Academically, Shattuck’s “all-in” atmosphere didn’t help. I felt anything less than an A was unacceptable. Most importantly, everyone seemed to know what they were doing, what their core was. They appeared to have strong foundations, and they were building up into the sky. On the other hand, I had no foundation whatsoever. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. Whatever I tried to build was constantly crumbing, and I had to restart again, and again, and again. It was exhausting. No matter what I did, it was never enough. And finally, I cracked.
Talking to Mr. Gutwein, I realized I’d been approaching my life all wrong. Why think about memories or goals, the past or the future, if I don’t know where I am right now, in this very moment? I felt like a piece of my soul was lost, that I was merely a shell of who I once was. I was living up to others’ expectations, and nothing gave me a sense of passion or purpose anymore. Something had to give. I had to take time and retrieve my soul.
So I did. I took time out to put my pieces back together and remember who I am at my core. I decided to worry about acceptance and outward validation later. It was time to look inward. I started exploring what makes me happy, discerning what my true intentions are, and allowing myself to exist as I am, unapologetically. I’m not perfect, but I’m here. I’m not complete, and I may not meet everyone’s expectations, but I’m proud of myself and working towards what I really want and need. I am present, on my own terms.
I am Kadaria Adair Livingston, and even though it took me a whole school year, I finally feel free.