Student Voices: 2016 Graduate Speaker Sonari Chidi

California Connections Academy @ Capistrano


male student at podium

We are entering a time in our lives when owning, celebrating, and maximizing our uniqueness will be critical to the quality and trajectory of our future.

There are many different reasons why each of us came to California ConnectionsAcademy, and at the crux of it all is that we don’t fit into the confines of a brick and mortar school.

As online-schooled students, we have enjoyed immense freedom to be ourselves and pursue our passions and goals without fear of judgment or the pressure to conform. In typical brick and mortar environments, fitting in, even at the expense of our individuality or our dreams is often the easiest choice.

In online school, however, we have been free to express our individuality and achieve our goals no matter how unique they may be. Being different is not just acceptable at California Connections Academy; it’s central to the mission of our school.

Connections has nurtured us to believe that being different is great. Being different is powerful. And being different will ultimately make a difference in the world.

But our uniqueness can only make an impact if we allow it to.

As we commence this exciting journey to discover and live out our purpose, we will face decisions that will force us to choose between doing what others believe is best and doing what will truly fulfill us. I faced such a decision recently - choosing a college!

My college decision was a difficult one. I would mention the schools I was choosing between to people and something very interesting would happen. One person would say “Oh my gosh, you’d be crazy not to go to College X.” Another person would say, “College Y is such a great opportunity, you’d be crazy to pass that up”, and still another would say “College Z is where it’s at - look at their ranking- you’d be crazy to ignore that!”

In the end, realizing that at least two people would call me crazy no matter what college I chose, I made a decision based on what I want to get out of my college experience, not on the expectations of others.

In the next part of our journey, we will have to decide either to conform to others’ expectations of what we should do or to follow the dreams of who we want to be and what we’d like to contribute.

Class of 2016, let’s be true to ourselves! Let us remember that as Benjamin Franklin believed, “the great aim and end of all learning should be the ability to serve mankind”

I have been consistently impressed and inspired by you, my classmates, whether that be during our online discussions or in LiveLesson® break out groups, or at in-person events. The richness of your ideas, the variety of your opinions, and the scope of your goals and accomplishments have motivated and encouraged me.

See, pursuing your passions is not only rewarding for you, it’s also exhilarating for those around you. The spark that our interests ignite within us is essential for our wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the world. Society needs each of us to maximize our unique talents. We can not let anyone put out our internal fires. Our callings are too precious, our missions too important, and the current state of affairs too precarious for us to cede to the status quo.

Today, society is filled with rhetoric that antagonizes and perverts fact into convenient hyperbole for the speaker. Misinformation ricochets and is weaponized against entire groups of people.

Our generation, however, has no excuse. Our laptops grant us no acquittal. We can enter no righteous plea of being mis- or under- informed. The internet gives us instant access to billions of volumes worth of knowledge. Let’s take advantage of it and seek out the truth. Thanks to our smartphones and tablets, we literally hold the truth in the palm of our hands. And within the truth is the power to inform, to educate, to persuade, and to enlighten.

Truth is the source of all that is good, and the paramount weapon in the war against evil. Truth is not only necessary for our society, it’s also necessary for us as individuals and our unique interests, goals, perspectives, and dreams are what make up our personal ‘truth’: our “true north”. The compass with which we can navigate our way through the complexities of life.

One of the greatest truths I have ever heard is that “government is too important...to be left to the adults.” When the youth stand by disinterested, a society ceases to challenge itself, to innovate, to progress, to grow.

So I urge us, Class of 2016, to stay engaged and to wield our power! Let’s harness it and use it in the fight against injustice, let us use it to protect the disenfranchised and be a voice for those for whose voices have been muted by discrimination, poverty, ill health, war, or lack of access.

Let’s go beyond merely recognizing that we have power and actually use it, by voting! This year will be the very first time many of us are able to vote in a presidential election - what an important opportunity! Let’s read up on the issues, research the candidates, weigh the outcomes and make our voices heard.

Beyond going to the polls, let us take ownership of whatever corner of the state, country or the world our journey takes us to. We can start right now! We don’t need a degree to volunteer, we don’t need a certificate to mentor, we don’t need to wait till age forty to make a difference in the life of a home-bound senior or to sign a petition to provide school lunches during the summer for children living in poverty. We don’t need a college degree to call our district attorneys and tell them that justice must be served. Not for some, not for many, but for all.

Regardless of whether we are moving on to vocational training, or formal education, or the military or to experiential learning, we can make a real difference starting right now.

I would be remiss if I did not give credit to the amazing teachers and administrators who have created this liberating and empowering environment for us. Our teachers are incredibly accomplished, highly educated and could have chosen any number of lucrative careers, but instead have decided to teach and inspire the next generation.

In my previous brick and mortar school, the school culture seemed to delight in inflexibility and holding steadfast to the way “it’s always been done”. It didn't matter that my dreams and goals were clearly being obstructed and crushed. Coming to Connections Academy, where teachers and administrators alike root for us to succeed, I have received tremendous confidence. And with that confidence has come the knowledge that I can… because my teachers believed I could, even before I realized it.

So to Mrs. Ayers, Mr. Leal, Ms. Steenstra, Ms. Gearing, Mr. Alameida, Mrs. Leung, Ms. Ehrke, Mrs. Burkes, Mr. Idiart, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Shafer, Dr. Savage and all of our amazing teachers, administrators and staff, thank you! You do make a difference! Class of 2016, can we take a moment to applaud them?

Class of 2016, I urge us to cherish our aspirations, to embrace them, to work at them relentlessly, and in doing so, to realize our highest dreams. For when the world attempts to ensnare us in the trap of the status quo, being true to ourselves will set us free to soar once again.

Finally, let us recognize our family, friends, guardians and mentors. They are not only the wind beneath our wings, but also provide the safety net that takes the fear out of falling. They encourage us to get up as many times as we stumble and to see both falling and picking ourselves up again as necessary to our success. Class of 2016, let us applaud our family, friends and mentors for showing us that as Winston Churchill said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

If you take just one thing from this speech let it be this: connecting to our purpose requires us to move from “yes we can” to “now we do”. As the saying goes, “If not now, when? And if not us, who?”

Class of 2016, it has been such an honor sharing the journey so far with you, and I cannot wait to see the heights that we reach. The best is yet to come! Congratulations!