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A Look Back At "The Speeches They Would Have Given"

Photo: Baim Hanif
Photo: Baim Hanif

Throughout the month of June, we’ve heard graduation speeches from valedictorians and class leaders in the Central Florida area. 

Let's take a look back at “The Speeches They Would Have Given.” 

Seniors who submitted to our month-long series shared their words of wisdom. 

Read and watch their speeches below. 

Brian Gifford valedictorian at Hagerty High School sees challenges as an opportunity to grow.

"I want to thank you all for watching or listening to me in the midst of a global pandemic where for many of us, we are experiencing the huge transformation we have been waiting nearly 18 years for.

It truly is a momentous day for many of us during a disastrous period in the world.

Many of us may feel unlucky in that we were robbed of great experiences like Senior week, grad bash and even prom, but we are experiencing life in its finest.

Life is a harsh mistress where even if you do everything right and work towards something with all your strength and perseverance it can be gone in what feels to be an instant.

But these troubling times we find ourselves in are key for developing and strengthening our character, as hard times do create strong people. Without suffering, we wouldn't know what pleasure is. And without pleasure, we truly wouldn't know what it is to live.

It's the natural ebb and flow of life.

Right now, we find ourselves at a junction between the two, being mere weeks away from the grand celebration of graduation to a place where we feel slighted out of the opportunities we worked diligently towards as high schoolers. But we must keep our strength and wits about us remembering that we are some of the most capable people that have ever lived on this planet.

We're the people that somehow made it through Ms. S's class as anxious Freshmen and passed precalculus with Ms. C even though to this day, I still can't recall a single trig identity.

We made numerous achievements in athletics and academics always being the best high school in Seminole County and one of the best in the entire state of Florida. That is something that we shouldn't take lightly and nothing can ever take that away from us.

So as we continue into our future remember to reflect upon all the great and terrible experiences we've had in high school. It is life's gift to us, and we will only ever have one high school to remember.

Let life give you strength by not only learning from all the mistakes, but also from remembering the precious memories we crafted along the way. Times may feel uneasy amidst the global panic and the fact that many of our greatest friends are being shipped hundreds of miles away.

But we are all miraculous and wonderful people with their own set of problems, aspirations and strengths.

We will succeed in our future no matter what challenges life throws in our way.

Few generations can say they were raised in the midst of one of the most challenging plagues of the near century. So take advantage of this as a way to strengthen yourself and don't let it take away from the final days we were able to call ourselves Huskies.

The memories are here to stay and are beckoning from you to learn from them and embrace them no matter how cringy those TikToks might be.

I will thoroughly miss being at my second home with all of you and I hope to see you all again. Never forget what we've all made together along the way. We will all find success in our future as we will truly learn who we are deep inside when the trying times ahead bring out the best of us in this remarkably transitionary period of our lives."

Milana Mudra valedictorian at Oviedo High School leans on friends and family in hard times.

"If you would have asked me four years ago what I thought the key ingredient to success was I would have looked at my Freshman planner and my color-coded motivational Post-It notes and told you, 'you cannot be somebody unless you plan for it. Leave no detail of the day to uncertainty. Stay the course'.

So here it goes.

An after-school day in the life of Freshman Milana.

Chemistry homework, two hours. Obligatory brain break after chemistry, 15 minutes break. Brain coasting homework, 40 minutes. Dinner and shower, one hour. Night-time skincare routine, 30 minutes. Then triple underlined in red, only if you have time, 45 minutes allotted for a single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

With all the deluded overconfidence of a Freshman I tackled each daily to-do item with steely determination and no hiccups, which left not a doubt in my mind that I could also map out the next four years of my life and beyond.

I must have crawled out of the womb with a checklist and today I'd like to share with you how I marked the milestone of hitting my first double-digit birthday. At 10 years old, I already prepared a blueprint of life goals to fulfill before I reached the next decade, so let's see what I can check off today.

Number one, become the world's best, greatest ballerina. By that I mean dance professionally with the New York City Ballet. Didn't happen.

Number two, choose among three boyfriends to go to prom with. Well, I failed on that one too.

Number three, meet One Direction and marry Harry Styles. I don't even recognize the girl who could have written that.

But finally skipping to number six, wish that my childhood would have never ended.

Now that high school has drawn to an official close this one sentiment is the only thing that I had gotten right.

You see, despite the best laid plans, our life's journey may take sudden unexpected twists and turns, regressions, roller coaster jolts and finally show us that we don't have the 2020 vision to see our destiny.

Goals shift, our priorities and tastes change, chaos disrupts the future. The coronavirus mutates to survive, and we as a species must embrace the same shape-shifting flexibility to deal with an unpredictable world.

Class of 2020: the world that we inherit after graduation will throw tricky, unexpected curve balls at us.

Not only do we face an unknown virus, but also an unknown employment landscape that some economists describe as more disruptive than the Industrial Revolution. In the age of artificial intelligence, algorithms and robots will replace tasks that are menial or repetitive. This automation revolution will take away 30% of the world's jobs by 2030.

We will also inherit the fruits of a biomedical revolution when the sequencing of the human genome and the discovery of gene-editing technology will drastically extend lifespans and alter what we know about healthcare.

Certainly, we want to hear a lot for which no past generation has given us a roadmap to navigate.

How should we adapt to meet the changes presented by a world that moves so fast and is constantly evolving?

A disruptive world requires dynamic thinking, shattering paradigms, upending what others expect of you, questioning dogma and constantly reinventing your skills or how to see and do things.

According to labor statistics, the average American will change jobs 11 times in a lifetime. 11 new environments to adjust to and 11 learning curves to climb. To make the leaps that life will expect of you, dare to be creative, be bold, be flexible, because conforming to a mold will mean that you will have to compete with an algorithm.

And sometimes when you spin your wheels and are overwhelmed and stuck, lean on the stabilizing forces in your life, the people whose love for you will never change.

Finally, you will just have to throw away any expectations of perfect. Expect the unexpected. Realize that all the amount of fear, worry and anxiety won't change what you cannot control. So it's better not to dwell on your emotions but to adapt, adapt, adapt. As you venture forth Oviedo Lions and wonder what your next bold move will be and where you are headed, I leave you with the words of a wise, old, time-traveling doctor.

'Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads'."

Blaine Farrell valedictorian at Lake Mary High School doesn’t let uncertainty keep him from living an authentic life.

"Class of 2020. I congratulate each of you for finally reaching this milestone in your life.

Our graduating class is one that's certainly no stranger to change.

Already, we've experienced the change of a new high school principal, the change in our athletic schedule due to our gymnasium repairs, which I might add left us no choice but to experience a change in our pep rallies.

And just recently and most profoundly, we've experienced the vast and unwelcoming changes resulting from COVID-19.

Classmates, it's clear that change comes with challenges. However, it's these challenges and the choices we make in response to them that allow us to adapt, persevere and triumph, so we can stand tall and meet success every step of the way.

My maternal great-grandmother Shirley was famous for her humor and philosophical expressions. Through her years of proudly earned wisdom she would say, 'there are many doors along your journey through life. You do not have to open everyone. If you do open one, you don't have to go inside. Choose wisely before you step in. There's always another door'.

So classmates as we graduate from high school and begin our walk into adulthood. What doors might you open?

Some of you have already opened doors that led you to unique opportunities. For example, a few of our classmates continue to dabble in entrepreneurship with eBay businesses, selling sneakers or sports memorabilia, while others have small tutoring businesses. Our class also has amazing athletes that strive to become good enough throughout their Lake Mary career so that they can open the door to play at the collegiate level. And so many of us have worked tirelessly throughout our high school careers, to earn a high enough GPA and SAT score to gain admission to the dream university or college of our dreams.

Class of 2020, as you journey into adulthood, and embrace the unique experiences and opportunities life affords you, don't be afraid to open doors, and peek in.

We all know how to adapt and change.

We've proved that time and time again throughout this year. Don't let the fear of the unknown hold you back from taking bold and beautiful risks that allow you to discover your own unique self and aspire to create a successful and meaningful life.

And friends. Don't be forced to open doors that someone else opens for you. Life is full of choices. But it's best to make your own choices and learn from the glorious mistakes that you might make along the way rather than to make someone else happy. Your mental health and your well-being will thank you for it.

Now, as we step toward our futures, I thank the Lake Mary high school faculty and staff, parents and family members, and especially you, class of 2020, for four great years of memories. And remember, as my great grandma would say, 'choose wisely. There's always another door'."

Cameron Calloway valedictorian at Seminole Virtual School tries to live everyday like it’s his last day to do good.

"Congratulations, fellow graduates. After being quarantined for so long. I'm not certain of what day it is anymore. However, I believe I just graduated today.

Well class, most of you have heard the saying hindsight is 2020. But it's 2020. And I did not see any of this coming.

In the spirit of the quarantine and graduation, my mother found a great t-shirt to sum up the uniqueness of the class of 2020. Thanks, Mom.

Speaking of my mother, I think it's important that when one finds success, they give credit to those who helped them achieve that success. I owe everything to my mother, father and brother, who all supported me in my endeavors, got me through some rough times, and I just wouldn't be the person I am today without them.

I've attended virtual school for six years. The flexible schedule and portability of learning has allowed me to excel in several different extracurricular activities. One in particular is the Civil Air Patrol cadet program. In the Civil Air Patrol, I have learned much about leadership and have been given many opportunities to lead others.

Currently, I am the Cadet Commander of my squadron and if it weren't for my squadron's leaders, I wouldn't be the leader I am today.

After years in the program, my favorite and in my opinion the most important form of leadership is servant leadership. Servant leadership is when a leader serves their followers putting the needs of the followers first. The best part of servant leadership is that a leader's followers will learn and practice what the leader teaches to them. So servant leadership is a contagious, positive behavior that can make the world a better place.

Marian Wright Edelman once said, 'service is the very purpose of life. It is the rent we pay for living on the planet'.

Another popular phrase is, 'live every day like it's your last'.

I personally disagree with this, as it encourages selfishness and short-term thinking. If people lived everyday like it was their last they would completely forsake their tomorrows. Because I believe service to others is so important, I came up with the phrase that I live by, 'live every day like it's your last day to do something good for the people of tomorrow'.

We are all here for a reason. But we are not here forever.

Fellow graduates, we are children no longer, we must lead our youth of today with kindness and selflessness, creating leaders of tomorrow full of joy.

Congratulations, 2020 graduates. Let us go out and lead this world to a better tomorrow. God bless."

Natalie Cabada class president at East Ridge High School uses her voice to speak up for the truth.

"Welcome all to the graduation ceremony of the class of 2020.

It may be later than expected, but guys, we did it.

Hi, my name is Natalie Cabada, and I'm Senior president here at East Ridge High School. It is an honor for me to be speaking in front of all of you today.

To be honest, I put writing this speech off because I did not want it to be true.

I was looking forward to being Senior president since the start of high school. And I knew that this ceremony and speech would mark the end of such a big chapter in our lives. And well, after graduation being postponed, I think we're all ready to move on to the next big thing.

I think we should all take a second to be proud of the huge accomplishment we just conquered.

We graduated high school.

Some graduated with their associate's degrees, while others received scholarships and acceptances to their dream schools.

It is a big deal and everyone here could not be prouder of you. Graduation is an exciting time, marking the end of a big part of our lives and sparking the beginning of an even bigger one.

As we start our lives from this day forward, I encourage you all to use your voice and follow your heart. We are entering the world during a challenging time. Our Senior year started off well, but then it sort of took a turn.

Nobody could have predicted what we would have to face the second half of our Senior year. Not being able to finish with our friends and favorite teachers, not being able to have our Senior prom, our grad bash or our Senior walkout.

This year started with the beginning of a possible world war, a global pandemic, killer bees, and countless protests for justice for Black lives. Who knows what this year will bring? But I continue to take this all as a wake-up call.

We need to use our voice to speak out for all the injustices and hate in our world.

We can no longer be silent.

I know that our generation is a generation that will bring change, because as most of you can tell, we definitely need it.

As Kobe Bryant once said, 'Everything negative, pressure, challenges is all an opportunity for you to rise'.

You have been given the opportunity to use your voice and create a future for yourself and your family. And I hope that you will use your voice wisely, and continue to fight for those whose voices have been silenced.

I hope that you and your families stay safe and stay healthy. This is a hard time for everyone. But no one can face it alone. We need to stand together and fight together, never alone because we are one Knight.

East Ridge has given us an amazing foundation that we can build on in our future endeavors. And I would like to take this moment to thank our amazing teachers and administration. We could have not done without you.

Also, I would like to take this moment to thank my support system. My mom and dad, my siblings, my grandparents, my friends and my second family at Chick-fil-A. All my friends, shout out to my best friend, Natalie, and my dog.

At some point in the future, they'll write books about today, yesterday, tomorrow and the day after. This year has sparked a lifetime of change. And I'm so glad to be a part of it with all of you.

Today we say goodbye. Some friends will keep in touch and some that will fade. We all have shaped each other into the people we are today. And I hope that you take all the memories and lessons with you in your hearts forever.

Class of 2020: I love you guys and I wish you guys the best of luck in the future.

And I hope the one thing you guys take with you today is to remember to spread kindness always. And remember that a little help from anyone is such a blessing.

You are never in it alone and you're appreciated and loved always. Please remember to use your voice and stand up. We can be the change. We need to stand up and use our voice and fight for that change. And after four years, Cabada out."

Each of our Seniors was featured on our website and social media including our Twitter and YouTube channels during the month of June. They were also heard live on air on Central Florida's NPR news stations, WMFE and WMFV. 

Congratulations class of 2020!

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.