Isabelle Anderson Graduation Speech: “No Good Story Ends With ‘In conclusion’ ”

Stephen Rovida

Isabelle Anderson, Senior

Isabelle Anderson was one of two students selected to speak at Saturday’s graduation ceremony based on a contest in which all seniors were invited to submit a graduation speech. The contest was judged by faculty members from each department as well as administrators.

Honestly, I don’t remember most of freshman year. I think I tried to block it out so I could forget just how painfully awkward it was. I remember big events like my first day of highschool, first football game, first Olympics, although I think we’d all like to block out the Famous Freshman Silly Walk if we could. The smaller details I had trouble remembering. After racking my brain for a while, I found a memory that stayed with me, and I didn’t understand why.  It was Mr.Schliefer’s english class, and I had just received a grade on an argumentative essay I wrote about Cyrano de Bergerac and his love for the beautiful Roxane, or as Mr. Schleifer would sing “Roxxxxxxxxanne!   Come on guys … like the Police song? ” We laughed along, even though none of us knew what that song was. I got my essay back and flipped through the pages, looking at the marks of red ink where I missed a comma, or was praised for using a Schleifer vocab word, and everything seemed pretty normal, until I got to the final paragraph. There was a big red line through the first two words of my last paragraph, “In conclusion.” I was baffled. How else was I supposed to signify that this was indeed the end of my thoughts, how would the reader know that they had made it to the end if I didn’t tell them? Eventually the bell rang and as the class filed out the door, I stayed behind to ask, “What should I say instead?” He told me that the reader doesn’t need to be told when the story is coming to a close, when you’ve written a good essay, they know the main points have been hit and the message has been given. The conclusion is just a nice way to tie everything together. Mr. Schleifer, I doubt you remember that conversation, but to this day I have never written the words “in conclusion” on another essay.

When we walked through the doors of PMHS on the first day of our senior year, we all knew a part of our story was coming to a close. We attended our last football games, finally won an Olympics trophy (and a back to back silly walk victory); all our familiar story lines were slowly, steadily being resolved. And then, wouldn’t you know it? Lucky us, a once in a century global pandemic struck and on May 1, a day that was supposed to be dedicated to celebrating our college decisions, instead became the day we learned we would never again return to Pelham Memorial High School as students. We had already said our last goodbyes to our teachers and principals, had already zipped up our backpacks and walked out from under that massive clock tower for the very last time and never even knew we’d done it. It was heartbreaking. We would never get our last moments, our conclusion.

I think the reason we treasure last moments so much is because they give us an occasion, a moment to take a breath, turn around and look back across the landscape of  all the things that have gotten us to this point and appreciate just how far we’ve come. It gives clarity to how these experiences have charged and changed us, have contoured and shaped us into the people we are today. Closure offers us a symbol, a totem that proves “we did it,” “we made it!” and nobody or nothing can ever take it away. What makes the class of 2020 so special is the fact that we didn’t get our proper ending. We didn’t get the closure we so deserved. Far from diminishing our accomplishments though, this, in fact, has made me see and appreciate the true value of them even more.

Prom, Senior Carnival, Decision Day — they’re all additions to our experience. Is it upsetting that we lost them? Yes. Does it diminish the value of our four years? Absolutely not. The painfully awkward freshman year that I worked so hard to forget happened to everyone here today. We were all pushed into this school, stumbling like baby deer, trying to get our footing. And now—we’re here—receiving our high school diplomas, all the more secure for those lessons. It wasn’t the events that brought us here, it was us. We grew from knowing each other. Other classes will never experience the true value of this.  Not in this way. Their final months will most likely blend into one big celebration, with constant congratulations and cheers. We didn’t get that.  Didn’t get to pour our heart into those last traditionally defining moments. They were taken from us, and so, we are forced instead to look back on our years at PMHS and appreciate how beautiful all of our experiences were, each and every one.

When I reflect on my time here, I can see my feet climbing the steps of the double stairway, entering the bustling hallways that filled Monday through Friday for the past four years. Faces of my friends, whispers of laughter and the familiar sound of the bell that tells us to find our seat. Lessons that were more than academic, from a friendship gone awry, to a special connection with a teacher, a passing comment in the hall, grabbing a coffee in between periods, or staying up late to finish a research presentation. The wash of pride after finally receiving a 90 on an AP Physics Test, and, of course, the terrorizing fear of walking into the SAT for the first time—these things made us who we are. These moments are ours to hold and nothing takes that away. Our final months of high school were spent in reflection, giving a depth to our ending that a traditional one could not.

There will be moments in our lives that just seem unfair, like the universe has pitted itself against us, and we can see no end in sight. But I know that the Class of 2020 will take these moments head-on, more equipped than any graduating class before or after it, and become something great. I know this because we did not define ourselves by what we lost but, instead, by cherishing all we had. So what if we didn’t get the classic high school ending? We got our ending. After all, no good story ends with the words “In conclusion”.

Congratulations to the Class of 2020! I hope your future stories hold all the thrill, the hope and the success of the story we, together, shared.