Student Voices: 2016 Graduate Speaker Quinlan Mann
Ohio Connections Academy
Good afternoon, Class of 2016. Before I get started, I would like to welcome Ms. Corron and Ms. Ridenour, along with all the board members, teachers, staff, and, of course, the families and friends that have stood by us throughout our high school journey.
It is my honor to speak before the Class of 2016 today in celebration of this momentous occasion – this is truly a great transition in our lives, as we leave behind our high school careers and move on to our next great calling – whatever that may be. Be it the workforce or the military, a two- or four-year college or a vocational school, a gap year or full-time volunteer work, all of us are moving away from the guidance of the excellent faculty here at Ohio Connections Academy (OCA). I’m not going to sugar-coat it: it’s time for us to find a place in the real world. To truly thrive as we move forward, we must take what we have learned over the past four years, and apply it to the rest of our lives. To this end, there are three key principles that I believe we should all remember – three essentials that have guided us throughout our high school careers, and that we should strive to live by in the future: three guidelines that I believe have the power to propel each of us to greater success along whatever paths we choose.
First, be independent and reliable. Second, build dependable relationships. And third, think outside the box.
I am confident that all of us can follow these guiding principles, simply because I know that we have over the course of high school. The very nature of an online school has brought out our most reliable, independent selves. To prosper in a flexible, more freeform environment like that of OCA, self-motivation and initiative are absolute requirements. Along the way, we built and strengthened relationships with people who could help us succeed – teachers, friends, and especially Learning Coaches and family members. And these individuals, along with the curriculum we followed, encouraged us to look at the world from new perspectives, coming up with creative solutions to a variety of problems. Has it always been easy to live by these three principles? Of course not. There are always struggles. But for every time you struggle, I would bet that one of these principles helped you overcome that struggle — be it mustering your own self-discipline to persevere, receiving help from someone else, or seeking an outside-the-box perspective. Let me give you an illustration: let’s say there was a particularly challenging math concept that you could never grasp, and your motivation withered, leaving you with overdue work and undue frustration. How did you cope? Maybe a stubborn sense of independence kicked in, and you grappled with the concept until you pried loose enough understanding to complete your assignment, to pass your test. Maybe a teacher or a family member — a supportive person in your world — sat down with you and helped you understand the math concept. Or maybe you applied some creativity — looking at your struggle from a different perspective, you may have realized how it related to a concept that you did understand, enabling you to reverse-engineer a solution. That’s one way that we’ve followed these three principles – of being independent and reliable, of building dependable relationships, and of thinking outside the box – in high school. Now it is time to translate them to the real world.
Principle 1: Be independent and reliable
We are all fortunate. As online school students, we are used to working on our own, without a teacher standing over us making sure we work, work, work. We have been trusted to learn independently, efficiently, and effectively throughout our high school careers. The flexibility of our schedules has forced all of us to be diligent, completing our schoolwork even when the myriad distractions of the modern day have constantly called to us. The distractions of the Internet are ever-present – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, and thousands of news and entertainment outlets at our fingertips every moment of every day. On top of this is the ever-present lure of the smartphone, putting Instagram, Snapchat, and text messaging in your pocket. We all had the option of saying “LOL, YOLO, winky face emoji” and ignoring our work. And I’m sure that, at some point or another, all of us gave in to that temptation. But, in the end, we put it aside and we sat down, launched Connexus®, and did what we had to do. By being independent and reliable, we were able to not only complete all our schoolwork, but also participate in clubs and extracurricular activities, and enjoy our recreation time. The self-regulation and self-discipline of being students in a virtual high school gave all of us the opportunity to become more capable, more reliable people – and to earn the respect of our peers and elders alike.
Moving past high school, all of us will benefit tremendously from this ability to function independently. If you’re going on to higher education, you won’t have a professor standing over you, making you study before you socialize. If you’re getting a job or enlisting in the military, self-discipline will be expected of you. By already having the habit of buckling down and getting things done, you have an advantage in achieving success in whatever you do. By taking the initiative and being self-motivated — as you have had to be during your time at OCA — you can fulfill your responsibilities efficiently and save your employer, your professor, or your commanding officer the frustration of having to micromanage you. This, in turn, will save you from the ire of an angry boss, prof, or CO – something I’m pretty sure no one here wants to deal with. Over time, as you continue to work independently and professionally, you will hopefully build a reputation for being reliable – a solid worker and trustworthy member of your team. When people see you as reliable, they will look up to you, and they will respect you more. Yes, sometimes it’s hard being “the reliable one” when your colleagues or teammates are shirking, and you may even feel from time to time that your willingness to show up and put in the effort are going unnoticed, or worse, taken unfair advantage of. But if you grit your teeth and apply yourself to do what has to be done, then not only will you have the satisfaction of having contributed your best efforts, you can rest easy knowing that you did the right thing – as I’m sure many of us have felt at times during the past four years. So how do you make the most of your reliability skills without always ending up with the short end of the stick? Well, that’s where Principle 2 comes in.
Principle 2: Build dependable relationships
Every Frodo needs a Samwise, a Gandalf. Every Harry Potter needs a Ron, a Hermione. Every Rey needs a Finn, a Poe. Whatever the relationship – friend, mentor, family member – we must always work to build relationships that we can rely upon, making sure that our requests for help are respectful and that we are willing to return the favor. Even when these relationships become strained – a Katniss to a Peeta – a truly dependable relationship can withstand tensions and come out stronger. And it is these sorts of relationships that we have built at OCA, with our teachers, our peers, our Learning Coaches. Look around you. You are surrounded by people you can rely on. The teachers who have worked countless hours to help each and every one of us be the best we can be. The peers who have engaged us in discussion of our coursework, challenged our assumptions, and become our friends. And, most of all, the Learning Coaches who have, time and time again, been so instrumental in helping us through these years, counseling us when we need help, dutifully logging our attendance and marking our lessons. Everyone: take a moment to look around, find your Learning Coach in the audience, and give them a big “thank you.” Go on – I’ll wait.
Out in the real world, creating these relationships can be trickier than in a school setting. For some – the Nick Carraways of the world, to reference The Great Gatsby, my personal favorite reading assignment of high school – friendships come easily. For the extraverted and talkative, dependable relationships may not take as long to build. For others among us — the quiet, the introspective — it may be more difficult. Some people simply do not “play well with others” – and there’s nothing wrong with that! Every one of us is a unique individual, and, oftentimes, the things that make us unique can also make it harder for us to get to know each other. A logical, math-minded introvert might have trouble befriending a social butterfly who is also an artist – but, conversely, the differences between two individuals can make these friendships and working relationships richer and much more fruitful. However, the importance of having people that you can rely upon cannot be overstated. Life will be much smoother as a whole if you have even just a few dependable relationships with people who will stick by you for the long haul. For those of us who are moving away from home – do everything possible to stay in touch with your families. Family relationships can be some of the strongest, most supportive relationships possible, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that I owe so, so much to my parents. Keep your existing relationships strong – but be on the lookout for new friends and new ways to connect.
Whenever you enter a new situation in your life, try to identify an individual or two with whom you might become friends, and in time, grow these durable relationships I’m talking about. Remember that the first step is respect. Respect every other human being that you meet, regardless of their characteristics, even if they are very different from you — especially if they are very different from you. If you treat people with respect, they will generally respond with respect. Once you identify the people you can get along with, work to build mutual trust and mutual understanding. Find interests that you share. Maybe you both play a sport, or you both enjoy making things by hand. Maybe you listen to similar music, or have the same favorite band – Linkin Park, in case you’re wondering. Or maybe you like the same video games or TV shows – have a Doctor Who marathon! Find common ground, and then work to cement the relationship as dependable, where you can rely upon each other. Once you establish these durable relationships, work to maintain them. Relationships of all kinds take effort and time, but the rewards are profound. Keep your relationship positive, and in time, you can depend on someone watching your back and giving you support — and you’ll be returning the favor. Having support makes it far easier to follow Principle 3, our final principle.
Principle 3: Think outside the box
I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times. “Be original! Do something creative!” Maybe you’ve even heard the names of famous people thrown around as examples of unique approaches to problems or amazing innovations – Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs, to name just a couple. But thinking creatively does not always have to be world-changing or awe-inspiring. Even simple tasks can often be made even easier if you think creatively about how to approach them. Oftentimes, looking for a creative solution to a problem will result in a winning formula, or at the very least pose a healthy challenge for your mind. Frequently, taking the “road less traveled by,” to reference Robert Frost, will indeed “[make] all the difference.” I’m sure that, at some point in high school, every one of us turned in an essay or Portfolio that went somewhere we didn’t expect it to go at first, and received positive feedback for it. Maybe an analysis of a historical event turned into a comprehensive newspaper-style report. Maybe a Portfolio on a short story you read for English became a written conversation between you and the main character. There are countless more possibilities, especially on some of the open-ended Portfolios that we all encountered time and time again at OCA. This open-ended type of assignment challenged us to think outside the box — to venture outside our personal comfort zones and try something different.
Often, taking an unusual approach to a problem will result in you being celebrated. And sometimes it won’t. Not every creative venture leads to a revolutionary change in social interaction like Mark Zuckerberg’s invention of Facebook; sometimes, you end up with something more like Microsoft’s Zune, the company’s long-gone answer to the iPod. Thinking outside the box can be a risk; it won’t always lead to good times and smooth sailing. But the potential rewards of creative thinking far outweigh that risk. Every great idea rests on a foundation of not-so-great ones. Every so-called failure is an opportunity to learn and begin again, to practice persistence, to spur ourselves to try something different. When thinking outside the box seems to strike out, strive to understand what went wrong, learn from that, and keep on trying. Whether you are going to a college or vocational school and looking for unique approaches to assignments, or going into a workplace where you need to come up with resourceful ways to do your job, creative thinking will serve you well. Your idea may improve the quality of life for someone, somewhere — your family, your coworkers, yourself. It may save time, save money, make your business more competitive. An example: if you figure out a more efficient way of doing inventory that saves an hour or two, you save yourself and your colleagues an hour or two of tedious work — something everyone will applaud. This, by the way, is one example of how the three principles support each other: by being both independent (Principle 1) and inventive (Principle 3), you can quickly build your relationships and find a place to thrive (Principle 2).
As you graduate and launch into the next stage of your life, keep the three principles in mind. Be independent and reliable. Build dependable relationships. And think outside the box. Whatever your situation, take the initiative and apply that self-discipline you’ve been honing as an Ohio Connections Academy student. Connect with other people — giving and accepting support, and building relationships that will last a lifetime. And while you’re doing all that, give yourself permission to bring your own unique, creative ideas to bear on the challenges you’ll face. No matter the circumstance, no matter the job – these principles will help you live a happy, productive life.
I suppose that I ought to end with a quote of some sort, some inspirational message from a famous figure or musician. I would be lying if I said that this came easily to me – most of the music I like doesn’t really apply to these sorts of circumstances. I thought about how I personally “use” music most of the time, not only as something enjoyable, but also as a means of relieving stress and easing struggles. I know that the road so far has been easier for some of us than for others. And for those of us who feel like it may have been a struggle to get to this point, I have something for you.
“Do you feel cold and lost in desperation? You build up hope, but failure’s all you’ve known. Remember all the sadness and frustration. And let it go. Let it go.”
That was the chorus from the song “Iridescent” by Linkin Park, one of my favorite songs off of one of my favorite albums. And yes, it came out before Frozen did, so please no “Let it Go” references. But this song, like much of the album “A Thousand Suns,” is something of an anthem for carrying on, even in the face of near-overwhelming adversity. Always look forward – don’t think about your past failures. Let them go, and instead focus on the possibility. So remember: Be independent and reliable. Build dependable relationships. And think outside the box. Bear in mind these three principles, and use them to make great things happen. Sure, you might not become the next big thing. But you just need to get by in this crazy, crazy world of ours. And if you can get by, and live happily, then, in my opinion, you win at life.
Thank you all, and good luck.