Thomas Roche Graduation Speech 2021: “Bursting the Bubble of Fear at PMHS”

Speech by Thomas Roche, Senior

Each year the entire senior class is invited to submit a graduation speech for consideration. A committee of faculty and administrators then votes on the two winning speeches. This year’s winners were Thomas Roche and Sophia Leung. Attached is a link to Thomas Roche’s 2021 Graduation Speech, “Bursting the Bubble of Fear at PMHS”. Below is a transcript of the speech:

There was a time when I would never have wanted to make this speech. I was a nervous kid growing up; I was the boy who cried at recess. Every recess. My meltdowns felt connected to this horrible feeling of disaster, that burning sensation that tells you the world is ending. Years passed, and that feeling morphed into something different. A dark, uncertain bubble formed in the pit of my stomach. One that tells you bad things will happen. One that tells you to be scared of potentially life-changing decisions and to just look away instead. Many of you have lived through that bubble; Pelham Memorial High School has helped me, and so many others, escape it. To demonstrate, I’ll begin this speech with an anecdote about only the most relevant of topics: the eighth-grade school picture.

It was a rainy October morning in 2016, and the graduating class of Pelham Middle School was bunching together for a grade-wide photo in the bleachers of the middle school gym. Before the shoot, reminder after reminder was given to our PMS class: “Please do not forget the 8 a.m. grade-wide photo in the middle school gym!”

I forgot the 8 a.m. grade-wide photo in the middle school gym.

At 8:20 a.m., I entered PMS as Ms. Rao was doing a final roll call for the photo. Rather than confront her, I “snuck” into the side entrance of the gym, where all 219 of my peers were staring right back at me. There I was, backpack in tow and damp as a doormat, 20 minutes late to the school picture and arriving at the exact point where kids were both silent for the photo and all looking right at me. I darted my eyes downward and felt that feeling. The bubble of fear emerged. But when kids began to notice the awkwardly late kid, for some reason—some reason—they began to clap. Within seconds, the whole grade launched into a thunderous applause at my late entrance. I kept my blue hoodie up to cover my blood-red face as I waddled across the basketball court into the bleachers. To this day, I have tried my hardest to forget about the time I showed up late to the eighth-grade picture. Even still, I was the awkward hero for the day. The worst fears conjured by that bubble brewing in my stomach just didn’t happen. I was okay.

So, why do I bring this up? Time may be moving strangely nowadays, but from what I can remember, our eighth-grade moving-up ceremony happened at least six months ago. Well, this grand entrance of mine happened when we truly became our nervous teenage selves; this was an era where many of us found those bubbles of fear for the first time. But after the eighth grade came Pelham Memorial High School: For many, this was the destroyer of that bubble.

It’s easy to look back at your freshman year and think about how intimidated you were on your first day. That wasn’t my experience, though. In fact, I tried my hardest to not be intimidated at all. I might have physically looked up to upperclassmen, but I knew there was something that set me apart from the masses. I was Picasso, the world was my canvas, and the only obstacle in my way was the geometry Regents.

Naturally, this attitude vanished after week three. The ego I tried to hold onto from being the president—yes, president—of the school’s Dungeons and Dragons club began to disappear as I found myself overwhelmed with new responsibilities, new clubs, and, yeah, geometry class. Unfortunately, a much different feeling took hold of me. The bubble rose again.

Little did I know that the feeling I had was fear—14-year-old fear, at least—over risk taking. I was afraid I wouldn’t like the world ahead of me. I was afraid the world ahead of me wouldn’t like me back. I thought high school wouldn’t be a place for bowl cuts, basketball shorts, Minecraft or anything else that defined me at the time. Eventually, I would find a place at Pelham for myself and many of my interests—but god, if it did not take me awhile to get rid of that bowl cut. All I really needed to do to find my place in high school was break through that comfort zone, that bubble of fear, just a few times.

It’s easier said than done, obviously. But if you’ve spent four years at PMHS, you’ve found mentors to help you. That one eccentric English teacher motivating you to speak up during class. The other eccentric English teacher not-so-slyly encouraging you to join an extracurricular that could change your interests forever. The large Greek man shouting “ROCHE!” from the bio tech lab—probably because he doesn’t remember your first name at the moment—giving you the heads up for the most intimidating meeting of your life. Pelham Memorial High School is a place for formative experiences, and many of mine have helped me escape that bubble of fear.

I have no doubt there have been times for you where it’s hard to escape that bubble. You’ve bombed a test, made a bad joke or balanced one too many extracurriculars, and it felt like everything crashed. Your only option was to fall back into the bubble. There were probably more serious events like that, too; I know I wasn’t the only one that felt that crash last March. But, through it all, you have come back. You’re escaping that bubble of fear by sitting here right now, to graduate from this part of your life. Some of you escaped from the bubble a while ago, others of you may be just stepping out now. But I implore you all, years from now to look back at whatever unnecessary fears, whatever unnecessary bubbles you kept yourself in during high school and to laugh, rather than regret. I was the one, after all, who was late to the eighth-grade picture. If anyone can tell you to not worry about it, it’s probably me. So break out of the bubble every once in a while. The fresh air feels pretty nice.

Congratulations to the Class of 2021, and I wish you the best of luck.