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2017 Valedictorian and Salutatorian Speeches

AIMEE PETITBON, VALEDICTORIAN
Good evening, Ursuline sisters, administration, faculty and staff, families, amazing Sioux moms, and most importantly, my fellow graduating class of 2017. We made it! Some of us have been at Ursuline Academy since we were young, and even itty bitties, while others have only been here for a few years. Either way, if you look left and right, we somehow all made it through this journey together. Congratulations! Valedictorian, literally “goodbye speaker,” comes from Latin origins, “vale,” meaning goodbye, and “dicere,” to speak; therefore, tonight as your valedictorian, I intend to leave you with a few parting words . . . about words.

Words are one of those things we do not often think about, yet we use them every day. We use them for everything: to greet, to think, to express ourselves, to love, to express thanks, to communicate, and even to harm. Words, ever evolving and changing with time, are devices conceived by the human mind to express itself, yet they are intangible. For even if written down or typed onto our screens, we merely grab the paper, the screen, but never the actual words. You cannot hold a word in your hand, nor can you destroy a word and make it disappear once it has been conceived. Words, mechanisms developed by humanity to communicate with one another, have become the most powerful weapons ever manifested.

Throughout history, those who have recognized the significance and power of words have been the ones who have left some of the greatest impacts on the course of humanity. Exceptional poets, writers, orators, philosophers, prophets, and rulers, have all harnessed the potent capabilities of their words to bring people to their knees in awe. Whether we know the words exactly, as in the case of our favorite songs, or whether we have heard the names of great speakers, such as Cicero, Descartes, and Hobbes, the power of words has affected each and every one of our lives. These individuals all understood just what power they held with what they said and what they wrote. We too should recognize that our intangible, ephemeral words are capable of producing real world consequences, including little ones that we see daily, such as the effects of gossip or compliments.

Words connect us across continents and oceans, through memories and recollections, and throughout history and time. With our words, we have become a global society. Humanity is a community based in our ability to share our common experiences.  Each day there is at least one couple around the world that says “I do,” friends that say “I love you,” and in our case, the words “I will miss you.” These words create bonds and love for one another that connect us across cities, states, and generations. It is the words of God, Allah, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, and other leaders and prophets of faith that have started world religions and cultures. It is the words of revolutionaries, like Patrick Henry, that set our country free and established democracy. It is the words of women, like Susan B. Anthony, that gave American women the right to vote. It is the words of activists, like Martin Luther King Jr., that brought about greater equality among people. It is the power of words that has changed the world to make it what it is today. Words are so potent because they connect our ideas to reality, making the supposedly impossible, possible.

Just as power is neutral, words are neither good nor bad. The effect of one’s words are determined by the wielder. Just as a sword lies dormant in its sheath until drawn, so too, words lie peacefully in our minds. It is solely our responsibility how we choose to exercise our words and for what purpose we employ them. We must acknowledge that we will never be powerless because we all have voices. I assume that everyone graduating has at least one, if not many fears, about what will occur in the coming year. We will all feel helpless one way or another at some time because the unknown is more than frightening. We might fool ourselves into thinking that we are powerless, but I ask that you take with you tonight the knowledge that you are not. As long as we have our words, we will always have a voice, and that is something not to be undervalued. Your voice will not fix all of your problems, but knowing that you have that power is truly bolstering.

So with these final words, I have shared on behalf of all of us, I must say thank you to the teachers, who have taught and guided us along the way; to our parents, who have raised us to be the brilliant young women we are; to our families, for always being there to support us when we need it most; to the Sioux moms, for making this year everything and more than we could have ever asked for; to those who could not be here with us tonight, whether because of the scarcity of tickets or because they could not make it for various reasons, who stand by us every day; to each other, for teaching one another life lessons through our failures; and lastly, to Ursuline Academy, for all it has given to each of us every day for the rest of our lives. Please know how heartfelt and powerful it is when I say those words.

Going forward, remember that no matter how insignificant and out of control we may feel and no matter what we face, we have the same power as leaders of nations, revolutionaries, and activists. We have the power of our words.  May our words take us as far as we wish to go. Once again, congratulations and the best of luck to all of us in the coming years! Thank you.
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ANNELISE ERNST, SALUTATORIAN
Good evening and welcome to all family, friends, faculty, staff, administrators, alumnae, Ursuline Sisters, and our commencement speaker. Thank you so much for joining us in the celebration of Ursuline’s 290th graduating class, and we are so grateful for all the love and support you have given us over the past years.

This moment. It is one that up until now has only flourished in our dreams. I know that all of us have strolled through the main first floor hallway, admiring the pictures of each graduating class, the rows of stark white, red roses, and smiles, visualizing the day it would be our turn. Yet, look around. Feel the lights bearing down upon us. From the crowd, feel our loved ones peering up at us- It is now our turn. We have concluded our high school journey, and the only thing that seems to be between us and our “freedom” is something so real and definite: our diplomas. We can continue to mark the rest of tonight’s experience through various physical, sequential events: we’ll step off this stage, embrace our family and friends, and walk out the door with a certitude like no other. This is how we naturally think, and it’s probably how we have most always thought about our past, present, and even future. We mark up time, measure events, and quantify our capabilities as exhibitions of practicality. However, I do not wish to examine tonight’s significance in terms of quantities or definites, or cause and effect relationships. Rather, I want to zoom outward in order to look closer. For, in my opinion, it is the significance of that which cannot be so easily “marked” or “labeled” that has the power to impact us- and to carry with us- most.

To do this, we must examine our time here at Ursuline as a collection of moments that have blended together to produce the present. Each and every one of us on this stage today has been molded or shaped by fellow students, teachers, administration, alumnae, and other members of the Ursuline community as a whole. We have so many memories as a class: rally days, retreats, school dances, service projects, and more. These events appear in our minds with flashing lights and bright colors, as we place so much significance on to moments that are big. However, these “big name” events cannot be the only modes of value we hold, because though each is truly invaluable, no one time or event can possibly measure the change that has occurred within us over the past many years at Ursuline, on the road to a clearer formation of ourselves. So, for this moment, I want to forget the physical realities of these events, the logical progressions and monumental memories. If we can look behind the curtain, we can highlight moments that not only are big, but FEEL big as well. I know that these might be different for everyone here, but by acknowledging some of my “feel big” moments, I hope that I can evoke and share something universal: a feeling of appreciation, a feeling of love.

I remember school masses, singing “Insieme” along with everyone else, from kindergarteners to faculty. Each time, one line would stick out to me: “My voice is one loving and strong, But with you I become a song.” Each time I sang this line, I never doubted for a second that I was a part of something greater than myself, even larger than the Ursuline community, something so inclusive and enveloping. With our voices together as one, we could really become a song, the tangible sound along with the literal meaning of the words eliciting a feeling so abstract yet so concrete, a feeling of love. Another special moment that comes to mind is at the senior sleepover, when we were miraculously allowed up onto the roof to lay out under the stars. We all stayed quiet and close, peering up at the blanket of the night sky with curious and thoughtful eyes. I remember feeling so small yet so large, a feeling that I didn’t believe was possible, a feeling that probably held significance in terms of my unknown future. In this moment, I felt beauty, magic, and wonder. I felt everything that these past thirteen years have been for me all at once: home, comfort, growth, and discovery. For me, these are the specific moments where I felt that I could define the undefinable, approach limits that do not exist, and believe in something that could not be seen. This was all possible due to the magnitude of my Ursuline experience, the empowerment to think beyond what was in front of me and to believe that I was great, we were great, and that we would never lose sight of the values of Courtesy, Loyalty, Courage, and Serviam.

We all are going to forget the specifics of many events here at Ursuline  as school days mesh together and details fade before our eyes. Yet, I want to challenge myself and all of you, my classmates, to hold onto your “feel-big” moments and perceptions because these are the lessons and meanings that are truest to you and to what you have accomplished during these past years. These sentiments will keep you going when you feel you can’t go anymore, and they will serve as a connection to the place that will define you in your future. They will empower you and hold you as you encounter new “feel-big” moments. Finally, remember everyone who made this all possible, our families, friends, teachers, administrators, coaches, and fellow students. They have given everything so that we can go forth; they have contributed immeasurably through constant support, love, and sacrifice. With this in mind, it is now up to us to really move forward with our greatest possible steps, to take advantage of every opportunity. I hope that we can all remember to think of our time here in terms of intertwined moments, relationships, and fond memories and feelings, and to carry them with us as we continue to face life’s challenges. I hope we can remember to see the beauty in the world, to recognize the interconnectedness of our experiences, to be empowered, and to be thankful for Ursuline’s everlasting community. To close, I’d like to share with you the poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, which I believe expresses more than I can ever begin to express about the wonder that awaits.

“Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Thank you.
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