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 2017-18 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.
“My whole life, different people have used different adjectives to describe me. I’ve heard ‘well-behaved’ from my elders, ‘quiet’ from my teachers, ‘distant’ from people who don’t really know me, and ‘crazy’ from my friends. When I was in middle school in China, I made a new friend. When we compared our first impressions of each other, I was completely shocked when she used the word “scary.” She thought I was scary because I never smiled when I passed her in the hallway. I had a good reason for that – I didn’t know her – but after that, I decided to smile at other people when we made eye contact. The thing is, back in China, people do not usually greet strangers. So when I smiled at others, I got in trouble. People thought I was either weird or had a crush on them. The situation was awkward, indeed.
“And the fact is I was obsessed by how other people thought of me. Caring too much about what others think is very stressful. You have heard stories about “that kid”–the kid with straight “A”s who is talented in basically everything. I heard about “that kid” from my parents because they thought this was a way to encourage me to study harder and develop more skills. Instead of skills, however, I developed my own vanity. I did whatever I could to convince other people I was smart, talented, and perfect.
“Of course, I’m not perfect, especially in school. In fact, I do a lot of procrastinating. I spend a lot of time on YouTube entertaining myself. I wouldn’t get down to work until late at night, after almost everyone else was asleep. Then I’d have to work twice as hard just to stay awake and catch up. This worked for a while, and I got good grades.
“That was really good for my vanity. My friends only ever saw me watching videos and relaxing. They thought I was just really, really smart. They had no idea that I had to stay up until midnight to complete my homework. It was very exhausting, physically, and emotionally.
“Finally, I couldn’t keep it up. My GPA took a major fall last winter term. I asked myself, “Why did I spend my weekend on nothing? Why couldn’t I do better?” My parents and teachers asked me, “What happened?” Then I cried to my parents and started to regret sending me away to school in the first place. I could smell their disappointment right through the screen. I couldn’t bear it, so I made a daily timetable to restrict my YouTubing and focus on raising my grades for the spring term. And I did it.
“At this point, you probably expect me to tell you how I changed my bad habits and really became a smart, talented, perfect person. But I still struggle. Every time I make a schedule, it works for a couple of days, then I relapse. Life is like a circle – I procrastinate, fall behind, have to work harder, catch up, and then it all starts again.
“But here’s the difference: I’ve started to work on my vanity. I don’t care if my friends think I’m perfect. I can let them see me work hard for what I want, just like they do. And when I get behind, I can ask for help. Although I will never give up trying, I have begun to embrace myself for not being perfect. I may procrastinate. I may not participate in class. I may not be so popular among peers. I may not seem friendly to strangers. But I have as much love as I could possibly get from my parents and as much support as I could get from my friends. If they can embrace my shortcomings, why can’t I?
“Some say it is really stressful getting to know me, but I am glad to know you all. Thank you for loving me and for being supportive.”