ELLA BROWN, VALEDICTORIAN
Good evening parents, siblings, sisters, faculty, administration, honored guests, and fellow graduates. My name is Raphaella, or Ella, Brown and I am truly honored to speak to you all today on behalf of the 291st graduating class of Ursuline Academy. Well, we made it. This is it. The next time we walk through those halls and make our way up and down those many flights of stairs, we will be alumnae, never to be high school students again.
I would like to take a moment to thank the people who have brought us here. First, we would like to thank our Ursuline Sisters: the sweet, “young” ladies who give this place life and meaning. Without your continued traditions and devotion to God, service, and education, we would not be here today.
Next, we would like to thank our faculty and administration. Although you are the reason for our dreaded tests and tedious homework assignments, you are also the reason we have come this far. You have provided us with incalculable knowledge both inside and outside the classroom through your dedication and eagerness to help us learn and grow not only as students but as individuals and young women. Your positivity, humor, sincerity, patience, and so much more will assist us in all our future endeavors. You have given us the resources to be successful in whatever we choose to do in life and have inspired us to be both well-rounded students and passionate individuals.
I would also like to thank our parents and families. Education starts in the home, and each of you has provided a foundation for your daughter to flourish that began long before our time here at Ursuline. Your endless love and support have led us to become bright young women and leaders, and we cannot thank you enough for everything you have sacrificed in order for us to be here today.
As we sit here on stage in our stark white dresses holding a dozen red roses, we reflect not only how this moment came to be but also who and what we will become in the future. We are a unique, diverse, and determined class, and I have no doubt that each of us will pursue our dreams and achieve great things.
Nine years ago when I began my career at Ursuline Academy, I did not realize how much it would impact my life outside the classroom. I knew I would be receiving a great education, but I had no idea about the friendships that would be created, the life lessons that would be learned, and the memories that would be hard to forget. Who would have thought that our One Direction obsession would fade, but not disappear completely, and we would have the same friends to laugh about it today? I never imagined that twirlers would be cheering on our sports teams, or that we would actually have to study and complete projects to pass religion class. And who would’ve thought that we would win rally as freshmen? Although many things at Ursuline have changed over the years, such as classmates, teachers, and lunch times, many things have also remained the same, such as the kindness, support, beauty, and sense of home found nowhere else. We are eternally grateful for the friendships and memories that will last a lifetime, but we are equally grateful for the opportunities we have been given and the insights that we have gained.
As we move on with our lives, we must remember the most important lessons we have learned over the years and take them with us wherever we go. The first lesson is to be yourself: never be ashamed of who you are. For those of you who have visited Ursuline Academy’s website, you may have spotted these small but significant neon green words towards the bottom of the webpage: “All qualified students admitted regardless of race, color, creed, national or ethnic origin.” Not only do we graciously accept diversity, but we genuinely strive for it. The differences in our physical appearances symbolize our varying and contrasting personalities and attributes. The Macs of 2018 are members of one of the most unique classes to ever walk the halls of Ursuline Academy. We’re athletes, mathletes, artists, musicians, dancers, and more, and an even greater number of us are a combination of these things, including myself. Where else can one student be on a state championship-winning basketball team and the varsity softball team, a member of our Student Council’s Executive Board, a violinist in our orchestra, and a member of all four honor societies? Our involvement in activities outside the classroom have inspired us to stay true to ourselves and find our passions. We were able to become comfortable and confident in who we are and stand firm in our beliefs and values. Take this with you to bring forth new ideas and perspectives to any job or experience you may have in the future. Never spend your time trying to be the person others want you to be; you will only find happiness by staying true to yourself.
Another lesson that has stuck with me over the years is this: What you do when no is watching is ultimately more important than what you do when they are. This remains true for each and every one of us; we all have personal goals and desires and varying levels of effort we’re willing to put forth to obtain them. No athlete would be as good as they are in games without the countless hours of practice behind closed doors. For instance, I asked two of our nine athletes who are committed to playing a sport in college about their dedication. One classmate of mine spends at least five days a week practicing for three hours each day. Another classmate and former teammate of mine has traveled to over fifteen different states to attend games and athletic camps, in addition to playing for two Amateur Athletic Union teams when she’s not in season during the school year. The results? Both of these women will be playing at Division 1 universities next year, and one has assisted us in winning two state championships.
Ask any artist if they could confidently create a unique art piece without previously practicing and perfecting their skills. I actually did ask one, and the answer, of course, is no. One classmate of mine actually took many art classes over the last few years and eventually found her own style by determining which mediums she was best at, whether that was watercolor, acrylic, or colored pencil. This year she was enrolled in our Advanced Placement Art class and had to complete 24 unique art pieces by the end of the school year. Some of her art pieces took over a month to complete in order to achieve the highest level of excellence and meet her own expectations. As a result of her hard work, she received quite a few awards at our own senior art show. These are only a few of the many examples of the dedication and determination that our class possesses. Effort is everything and will directly correlate with how much you achieve in life. When it comes down to it, the work you put in when no one is looking will build the character, dedication, and persistence that will ultimately draw the most attention.
As my speech and the final moments of high school come to a close, I want to leave you with a quote by Pope Benedict XVI: “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Take this with you wherever you go. Be kind, work hard, and be genuine. Great things will surely follow.
Thank you, and congratulations Macs of 2018. I wish you the best of luck.
LEAH MELANCON, SALUTATORIAN
Good evening family, friends, teachers, administrators, the Ursuline Sisters and the Class of 2018. Congratulations, we’ve made it. This is it. Our last high school experience. Most of us have had senioritis since eighth grade, but now that we are here, it seems surreal. Who knew that these years would fly by so fast? Looking back to our awkward eighth grade year, we were just a group of nervous new students, not knowing the amazing memories we were going to make over the next few years. We did not know that we would meet our best friends or that we would become part of a family here at Ursuline.
There have been many adjectives used to describe our class during our time here. Of all of these words, I think loudest is the one most commonly used. Throughout these rowdy times we have continued to grow closer as a class. It is said that the Mac plaid that we have worn so proudly represents our relationships and how we are very diverse, but all woven together. I could not think of a better way to describe us. We have encouraged each other and helped each other grow through this journey.
Neil Degrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and author, said “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.” Since we have been at Ursuline, we have been taught the value and importance of service. Service is more than just volunteering a few hours of your time. It is fighting to make a real difference in somebody’s life. Over the years, we have volunteered at many organizations including New Orleans Mission, Touro Infirmary, Second Harvest, St. Jude’s Community Center, and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. However, there is one experience that impacted me the most and I would like to share it with you to illustrate the profound effect that service can have in a person’s life.
This past summer I, along with several other classmates, attended Faith Acts Institution at Loyola University. This was a service learning program with a focus on the environment and our role in preserving and protecting the resources around us. It combined biology, and environmental science, with theology. We spent many hours in the heat planting gardens to help local communities and the environment. One night, we took a nature walk in Jean Lafitte National Park where I was able to truly see and admire the complexity and togetherness of God’s creation. I was able to understand how my actions affected other local species and even more so, the world. This program inspired me to make changes in my own life to help protect the environment and others around me. After learning about how the mechanized food industry harms animals and the ecosystem surrounding them, I decided to personally take action and become a vegetarian. Though difficult, I learned to persevere in order to spread awareness and make a difference. While there, I also learned about issues pertaining to social justice and equality for all. I learned that large corporations often take advantage of the impoverished. I learned how they purposefully build their factories in these areas because they know that the residents will not have the resources to challenge them, and this leads to many health issues for the people of the surrounding communities. I learned no one is there to stand up for the voiceless and that is our responsibility to speak up for those who cannot.
Pope Francis said “Young people seek to engage and address the social justice issues of our time”. We are the first generation to grow up with technology, and this has provided us with a platform for our ideas. We are much more informed about the world than ever before. No other generation, has grown up with the ability to connect to so many different people and places from all over the globe. We are the generation that has the power to change the world. We have the means to reach so many; it is up to us to make our voices heard. There is a lot of injustice in the world today, and most of us are pretty fortunate. We need to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. This is the most important lesson that I have learned here at Ursuline. We have been given these tools for a reason, so now it is time to take action. We are the future, so we must create one in which we want to live.