Student Voices: 2015 Graduate Speaker Courtney Thurston

Commonwealth Connections Academy

I’m glad to see we’ve all survived our overdue lessons. I don’t want to keep anyone from the food in the reception, so I’ll be brief—I just want to take a few moments to share some thoughts and some hopes.

The last couple of years have ranged in difficulty and in success. We’ve lost friends to arguments, over time, and, in some awful circumstances, to death. There are students who should be graduating with us today but were taken from us all too soon; it’s important to remember that we’re incredibly lucky to have made it to this point—to have had access to an education in the first place.

I know that—at least for me—graduation is bittersweet. Many of us have found our niche within groups in and outside of school, whether that’s been band, or drama, robotics club, or something else. Having to leave these things behind for a new routine is difficult; we’re leaving behind whatever comfort high school offered to go join the military, the workforce, or college communities.

Above all else, I hope you won’t be afraid to reach out to others. Not enough people do—especially not when they need help. As we’ve all learned throughout high school, teachers make or break a class; friends make us feel less alone in a world full of noise. The internet has made it easier than ever to connect with likeminded people; to reach out to leaders in whatever field you’re interested in. I’d encourage you to do that. Professionally, networking matters—but you don’t need to be born with those connections.

Always remember that you can learn something from everyone. And everywhere life is full of heroism.

I hope you’ll always ask for what you need. Young women especially are often told to put everyone else before ourselves. There’s a reason airline stewardesses always tell us to put on our oxygen masks before helping anyone else: you need to take care of yourself first if you ever want to help others—you’re no good incapacitated.

Always demand the treatment you deserve from the people in your life, future partners and beyond. And, when you get there, maybe consider negotiating your wage or salary and benefits.

I hope you’ll prioritize happiness when you can, provided you’re not hurting anyone else. Inevitably, happiness has to be put on the backburner sometimes, but life is way too short to do things just to please other people—just the other day we were learning to crawl, and now we’re getting our first diploma; you don’t need to be old to understand that time moves along without regard for your plans.

If you can find a path that simultaneously makes you happy and contributes positively to your community, then you win.

I’m proud of you, Class of 2015. Each of us are a few all-nighters and happy coincidences away from doing tremendous things--just remember that luck favors the prepared. And keep doing you.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be careful.

Strive to be happy.

And while that’s really the end of my speech, I would be seriously remiss not to take a moment to thank a teacher that’s done enormous things for me over the years. There aren’t many women in science, but those role models are important—it’s hard to visualize yourself in a position you can’t see. I wouldn’t be half the engineer—or the person—I am today without Mrs. Camp. She was my Honors Chemistry Teacher and Real World Design Challenge coach, but beyond that, she never stopped advocating for and inspiring me. This year, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation chose 149 educators from a pool of over 103,000 nominations from across the country to receive the national Educator of Distinction Award; Mrs. Camp won this award, and it’s my pleasure to present it to her.

Congratulations, Class of 2015.