Student Voices: 2015 Graduate Speaker Mikaila Blackburn

Nevada Connections Academy

Good morning, Nevada Connections Academy Class of 2015. I want to start off by saying how much of an honor it is to be here. I am so thrilled to represent such a lovely group of hardworking people.

As I'm standing here, there's a lot going through my mind. I feel very conflicted. On one hand, I feel completely relieved that I've finally finished high school. A lot of the time, high school was hard, and it was a huge pain. I mean, I am very thankful for the opportunity that I've been given to have such a great education, and I know that high school has definitely changed me for the better, but I'm really kind of glad to be moving on from it. On the other hand, I feel this great sense of heavyhearted nostalgia. Our days of high school are over. This ceremony essentially marks the end of our childhood. I don't want to say goodbye to my childhood. Childhood is great!

I remember when I had just finished fifth grade and was visiting my middle school for the first time. I was in the parking lot of the school, and the school building just seemed so daunting and ominous. I was having all sorts of panicky thoughts, but I was still trying to keep a cool and calm exterior. I remember my mom saying, “I'm more nervous about this than you are! How are you so calm?” I didn't respond to her then because I was trying to be aloof, but that was the first time I had this thought. A phrase just kind of popped into my head, and this phrase actually became my mantra that I repeated to myself a lot in the next seven years. “If anyone can do it, I can.” That's what I told myself. “If anyone can do it, I can.”

Little did I know that this phrase would become my only source of sanity through a lot of my middle school and high school years. It's what kept me composed on my first day of middle school. It's what encouraged me the first time I had a band concert. It's what reassured me when I had finals and was frantic because I was sure that I should have spent more time studying. It's what kept me going after I moved to a different state and had to start a completely new life. It's what kept me positive when I was first diagnosed with leukemia in seventh grade. It's what kept me positive again when my leukemia relapsed in ninth grade. It's what's keeping be calm right now as I'm speaking to all of you, because honestly, public speaking is terrifying.

Now take this moment to think about yourself. Think of all the bumps in the road that you've hit throughout these past eighteen years. Maybe you've had trouble with your grades, or maybe you've had your heart broken. Maybe you've had fights with your friends. Maybe you've fought an illness, or maybe you've lost a loved one. You've been through a lot. Life can be a struggle at times. There's a lot of anguish that you have to push yourself through.

But that's just it! You pushed yourself through it! You did it! You passed your classes! You got over that broken heart! You beat that illness! You got through it all! Whatever hardships you had to endure, you beat them! You punched your problems right in face and said, “I will not lose to you.” You are sitting here today about to get your diploma after all those hard times. You are unstoppable. You are well on your way to achieving your dreams. The future may seem daunting, but the road ahead is one you carved out for yourself with your own blood, sweat, and tears. If anyone can do it, if anyone can get you that dream job, get you that mansion that you've always dreamed of living in, and get you to the life that you want to live, you can. If anyone can do it, you can.

Achieving this is no easy task. Graduation is not something that just happens on its own. It takes immense amounts dedication and hard work to get to this point. You, the students, have worked for twelve years, possibly more, to be here right now. You should be tremendously proud of yourselves. The fact that everyone here achieved this through an online course only makes this feat that much more impressive. Online schooling isn't for everyone. To be an online school student, it is imperative that you are responsible and self-determined. After all, you have to make your own schedule and then motivate yourself to execute it, which isn't always easy. This requires a great work ethic. Your presence here now is proof that you possess all of these traits.

Of course, you didn't do it on your own. We didn't do it on our own. I'd like to take this time to thank the people who helped us get here. First, I'd like to thank our teachers. As someone who has migrated from school to school in the past, I can honestly say that the teachers at this school are the most dedicated teachers I've ever had. You all went out of your way to make sure that each and every one of us got the help that we needed. You put your all into making sure that we were successful in our education, and for that I thank you with all my heart. Secondly, I'd like to thank the parents of the students on this stage (?). Thank you for buying our school supplies. Thank you for motivating us to study. Thank you for driving us to and from events and tests. Most importantly, thank you for always being there for us. Without your support, this day wouldn't have been possible for any of us.

The moment you hold your diploma in your hands, you will cease to be a high school student. One of your biggest goals in life will be achieved. It's gratifying, of course, but it's also a little scary. You're the one steering your life in the direction you want to go now, and that's a lot of pressure to put on a person. Where do you go from here? Even if you have your immediate future planned out, the road ahead can seem very daunting. My favorite quote is from a video game called The World Ends With You. “The world ends with you. If you want to enjoy life, expand your world. You gotta push your horizons as far as they'll go.” So from here on out, what should you do? Keep pushing your horizons. Keep expanding your world. School may end, but learning never should, so keep learning. Learn about languages, art, philosophy, computers, medicine, psychology, or even people! You can learn whatever you want! As long as you keep learning, keep expanding your world, you will continue to grow and move forward. Your new life begins now. You all have bright futures ahead of you, and I have every confidence that you will succeed.