Student Voices: 2015 Graduate Speaker Richard Frewert Jr.

Nevada Connections Academy

Good evening fellow seniors, family, friends and teachers, Principal Werlein and Vice Principal Thomas.

If you asked me four years ago what I thought I would be doing at my high school graduation I would say that I would be sitting where you all are now; patiently waiting and barely living through all the bad jokes that the Valedictorian has planned; which makes it all the more of an honor to be the one delivering this speech today. So please bear with me.

We all have different reasons for joining Nevada Connections Academy. You and I are not here because we share the same zip code. We are here because we chose to be in a school that allows us to be ourselves, respects our individualism, provides freedom, to learn under one of the most flexible models in the world. We are here because we are different; different kinds of learners, different types of people. We all have different personalities and preferences. We are all unique.

We are here because we are smart enough to take advantage of the newest form of learning. Online school has advantages over normal public schools. We’re not limited by social standards forced upon us by the masses. Our uniforms are our pajamas. But with these advantages, there were no shortcuts.

We had a challenging curriculum. We went through cover to index in all of our subjects. We must have had the most portfolios in any school in our state! At times It seemed endless. Our work was visible, very visible. Our parents knew! But this also allowed us to check ourselves and allowed us to see in real time what we needed to improve ourselves on and which areas we thrived in.

From freshman year, I have been told constantly about the rules of the real world. I was told that hard work, determination and a little bit of luck was what you needed to succeed, when in fact that is what we needed and applied from day one. The fact that you all are here today, sitting no more than a matter of feet from the stage that marks the end of our high school careers is a testament to our hard work, dedication, and let’s face it, maybe a little more than just a bit of luck.

Lets talk a bit about our encouragement and accomplishments.

In our brief existence so far we have learned some of life’s hard lessons. That things aren’t often easy, but the harder the obstacle is to conquer the more worthwhile it is in the end.

While we have been encouraged to be good, do good, excel, we’ve also been told at times in our lives that we shouldn’t do things, want things, because perhaps these people that cared about us, maybe cared a little too much. So much that they want to protect us from disappointment, grief, failure.

We’ll I am here to tell you that if it weren’t for the risk of failure, and disappointment, and grief, we would not appreciate the brilliance and joy of success.

You are here today because you are the epitome of success. No matter what words may haunt you from those that cared too much, or those that did not believe, you can turn to them am say I did it! I have my education and that can never be taken away from you.

Look at us now, who could have known?

Maya Angelou once said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Remember this amazing feeling, right now, and let it replace any words of doubt.

But also keep in mind that today is the first day of the rest of your life. So is tomorrow, and the day after that. This moment is a milestone.

It took us four school terms, 240 24-hour days, 5,760 hours, 345,600 minutes or just under 21,000,000 seconds. That is what our high school experience came down to. As I look back, I ask myself, “What have I accomplished in this time?” “What exactly did I learn?”

Sure, I have learned facts on dozens of subjects and methods for carrying out an equal number of assignments and problems, but what are the lessons have I learned that I can trust to guide me through life? Through my experiences, I have found but a brief five that have helped me accomplish all that I have.

Be prepared, be curious, be optimistic, be bold and be present.

But, if I learned anything, it is that we have the responsibility. The responsibility to love and take care of our families, to preserve tradition, to innovate on the world’s greatest ideas, to protect what's important and to always fight for something better. As the upcoming generation, we have the responsibility to not only achieve for ourselves, but for the rest of the world. To be the best we can be no matter what we decide to become.

One of the most important things about being responsible is knowing the power of our voice.

My fellow classmates, our voices are different from the historical voices of the past and from the voices of our parents. To think that our voices would have the same value, the same effect, the same lasting meaning in history, would be arrogant and naive. But hold your judgment for a moment while I explain why our voice is important.

We can agree that many events begin and end with speeches, but few rise to a timeless symbol of that event. Take Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The mere 270 words gave heart and meaning to the great Civil War which took hundreds of thousands of lives, and predicted it would take more. It heralded a call to action that made death meaningful and unforgettable, a deep reflection of sacrifice, citizenship and freedom.

President Ronald Reagan, through the speech he delivered at the Berlin Wall in 1987, addressed one person, yet the entire world heard his call to tear down a wall that divided not only the people, but their ideologies.

I wonder if these legendary giants knew whether their words would inspire people or calm their worries.

From their examples, we have remarkable and intense models that we can measure our voices against. I know that our voices, while not yet well defined, can be just as loud, just as powerful, and just as important.

Our voices represent our choices. It embodies all that we know, and emphasizes those things that are most important to us. That is why we chose Connections Academy. In our great American country, our voice is protected even if we do not say pleasing and popular things, even if we do not follow the norm.

Class of 2015, we can use our words to state our opinions, but also to ask serious questions. For some of us now, and for others very soon, we can exercise our choices through our vote. We no longer have to wait and watch. If we don’t share our voice now, we may not have a voice when it counts. We may not count.

Our voices will inevitably change. As we learn every day and analyze the world and our lives, our tone and purpose will change. It is changing now. I can only speculate what will cause that change. The only certainty we have is that if nothing happens our lives, our voice will not change. I am optimistic that our experiences will add fullness and depth to our voices. And I presume that as we all age, we will shed ambiguity, will become direct and truthful.

In the years to come, our words may become brief and perhaps abrupt amidst the complexity in our lives that competes for our attention.

On this graduation day, I want our collective voice to resonate. What if our words, were quoted, written in stone, or shouted for millions to hear. It would be indeed spectacular and epic. The power of our words rests in how strongly we feel. It seems the strongest voices appear at the most trying moments. As Anthony Robbins stated, “In life you need either inspiration or desperation”. There are those that abuse their voices. Over time, they are no longer heard. Yet they still drown out those that need to be heard. Today’s mainstream media seems to control everyone’s volume. They project the voice of a few, over many. They have come to such influential persuasion that listeners lose their choices by not holding the media accountable for their biases or errors.

We do not have to be passive listeners. We must be loud, proud and restless until our voice is heard. We may not ever speak on a big stage or through editorial letters in the newspaper.

But technology helps us amplify our voices. You can see and hear us online where a network could be made up of millions; and a single voice can instantly reach an international audience in over 50 countries. Our voice may be seen on Facebook, Google, Twitter, Twitch, email, YouTube, or even on blogs and websites. And it will make a difference.

You will most certainly hear our voices through our actions: as people lobbying for justice at the state capital; as spectators at an important historical event; as students raising hands in a lecture; as volunteers helping a meaningful cause; as statistics on the U.S. census; as first time buyers at a car dealership; as a new homeowners relocating to another town; or even as citizens arguing in court; and as one collective voice speaking directly to you today.

At our age, with our reach, we are truly as powerful as the presidents and leaders throughout history; and that power is only growing. So when you view yourself as someone who is too young or insignificant, remember the we have a voice that can resonate and repeat. It is important to not only hear our voice but to witness our voices through our actions.

So as we go off on our life’s journey, remember that the road we face now, coming out of high school, is by far the hardest we will ever face, because that road is life itself. I wish I could simply quote a statesman or philosopher that claims to have the answer to life, but nothing came close to the points as the simple words that were read to me in my childhood, by Doctor Seuss in “Oh The Places You’ll Go”:

Today is your day.
You’re off to great places.
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers. Who soar to high heights.
You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Class of 2015, Congratulations! We passed our first test.