Student Voices: 2016 Graduate Speaker Sean VanMeter

Georgia Connections Academy

Students, How many times in the last four years have you said, “There’s no way I’m going to pass this math test?” “I can’t possibly write this research paper?' “I am never going to graduate?' For me, the answer is on the order of dozens. High school coincides with a liminal time in an individual’s life. Think about who you were as a freshman. If you traveled back in time to meet your ninth-grade self, would the younger you even recognize the current you as the same person? I doubt it. In the last four years, you may have gotten your first job, earned a driver’s license, and (the most confusing bit of all) had a significant other. These external changes reflect the transformation that has occurred within you.

You have overcome myriad obstacles, and each victory has made you a little wiser. As many challenges as you faced inside school, you confronted even more in your extracurricular life. You learned how to juggle the time spent with your friends, family, and other people important to you. You acquired new hobbies and learned new skills. You probably worked your way through the mystifying and intimidating process of college applications. Each of these endeavors brought you closer to independence and adulthood.

The diploma you are about to receive is not a college degree; it does not declare your expertise in any particular field. Instead, it certifies your possession of a very important skill set: you know how to manage your time; you can effectively communicate with both authority figures and your peers; you are resourceful enough to solve many problems independently, but you also know how and when to ask for and accept help; and most importantly, when the going gets tough, you grit your teeth, clench your fists, and charge headfirst at whatever stands in your way. My friend Professor Bobby Hurd used to say that it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down; what matters is how many times you get back up. Adolescence persistently assaults us, knocking us down on a daily basis. Yet, in spite of what seemed to be an eternal uphill battle, you persevered.

Constant pressure has the power to shatter even the most durable substances, but it also has the power to transform mundane things into diamonds. Your presence here today indicates that you refuse to be shattered.

The most practical application of a high school diploma is, of course, finding a job. Fortunately, your Georgia Connections Academy education has prepared you to succeed in the modern business world in more ways than you might think. Whereas students of brick-and-mortar schools are held accountable by daily interaction with their teachers, you have been responsible for turning in your assignments on time. From this, you learned self-motivation and initiative – skills that are essential for management positions and valuable in any situation. Through Webmail®, discussion forums, and LiveLessons®, you learned how to communicate effectively via online means – an indispensable skill as business is increasingly globalized, making face-to-face interactions impractical. Most notably, you refined the invaluable ability to learn independently. In place of daily lectures, Connections Academy provided you textbooks, videos, and instructions, leaving the task of gleaning the relevant information up to you. This ability to succeed without constant hand-holding and supervision will help you compete in the job market.

This graduation is not the peak of the mountain of your life. It is, however, an important landmark; a great place to turn around and admire all you’ve accomplished thus far. Up until this point, your life has largely been steered by the adults who raised you. Starting today, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to take charge of your life and direct it anywhere you want to go. That said, adulthood is both intimidating and exciting. Know that every experience you have has prepared you for the next chapter of your life. You may not be certain which direction to take your life right now, and that’s okay! What matters is that you never stop learning. Never stop improving. Most importantly, never forget that even when you doubted yourself, and the odds were against you, you endured. You aced those math tests, you pounded out those research papers, and today, you are going to graduate. Be proud, but also remember that the best is yet to come.