Eight hours.

Those were the number of hours my AP BC Calculus teacher, Mrs. Dirtadian, generously devoted to helping almost 50 students cram the night before their AP exam. She could have done so much more with those eight hours, reading a book, watching TV, going for a walk… but no. She dedicated those precious eight hours to us—her panicked students wrapped in bundles of stress.


Mrs. Dirtadian is a prime example of the characteristic I find most endearing about high school. Unlike in elementary school and junior high in which people treated my peers and me as simply students, in high school, we are treated as legitimate people. This phenomenon is provoked by the maturity experienced by many of us seniors through overcoming the challenges that have prepared us for adulthood. 


Clearly, how my classmates and I are today is disparate from how we were in our early childhood years. In elementary school, our timidness strayed us from the courage to ask our teachers for an extension on assignments due to personal reasons. In high school, many of us have grown to confidently take on that task. Also in elementary school, relationships were broken due to our pettiness. In our latter school years, people stop talking to each other over legitimate issues such as distrust or vanity. Furthermore, in elementary school, we simply viewed our teachers as our educators. In high school, some of us see our teachers as our biggest support systems.


I used to be a very pessimistic person. Especially in junior high, humanity, I believed, could never live in harmony, forever initiating issues across the planet that plague many peoples’ happiness. Turmoil, animosity, and dread rage across our planet due to individuals’ immortal selfish interests. And while I still believe that the world contains upsetting features because of our actions, over time I learned to find a light….  A light that shines from the kindhearted actions of the same humans who darken our earth. 


I came to be open-minded toward humanity, realizing that all I required were the right people and right circumstances to be able to see humanity’s glory. Specifically, my time at Shaker accentuated the empathy that flows within multiple hearts. Furthermore, I have been delighted to see my peers maturing and allowing empathy to touch their hearts as we collectively have sought to tackle the challenges that have intimidated us on our paths to adulthood.


COVID, particularly, pressured us to break apart. While friendships definitely deteriorated due to the decreased amount of time we could spend together, I find oddly enough that some of my relationships actually strengthened thanks to this difficult worldwide threat. 


I believe that this situation can be attributed to the fact that the difficulties of becoming physically separated from our dearest individuals have accentuated the exquisiteness in even the smallest moments in life that we can spend with them. We have learned to appreciate any time that others devote to just being there for us. Those who have put in the effort to interact with us despite the egregious barriers enforced by the pandemic demonstrate what it truly means to be a compassionate person. 


In our early childhood days, our relationships, even those with our best friends, were shallow due to the lack of emotional strength integrated within our shared experiences. We only saw each other in our best and most joyous moments, spending time with one another as sheerly naive toddlers who had yet to encounter life’s most strenuous obstacles.


And when finally faced with those obstacles, which all of us will have experienced at varying points in our lives, we are taken aback. We feel betrayed that life unexpectedly rained tragedies on us after years of carefree glee. We feel vulnerable for not knowing how to exactly approach these kinds of situations with years in which our young eyes were concealed from Earth’s wickedness. We feel hopeless knowing that life will come with many more struggles in the future that our nimble human hearts will have to endure. 


We get so caught up in our own distresses that we forget that people around us share the same burdensome sentiments too.


We are all so different. Different nationalities, skin colors, interests, strengths, weaknesses, etc. But we are all so alike as well. We all know what it is like to feel happiness. We all know what it is like to feel anger. We all know what it is like to feel pain. The experiences that stimulate these emotions within each of us could vary for each person, but in the end, we all share these sensations. Throughout our lives we must recognize this fact, empowering us to be open to other’s emotional needs. Indeed, the humanness in all of us is what allowed our species to originally learn the gorgeous ability to empathize. 


Empathy is not innate, a piece of advice I learned from reading Maryanne Wolfe’s Reader, Come Home, as a summer assignment for AP English Language and Composition. I contemplated Wolfe’s words, reasoning that humanity had to learn how to empathize as we comprehended that addressing others’ setbacks allows everyone, and thus including ourselves, to flourish. 


And as I grew up at Shaker High, I encountered empathy shining boldly within people I met. My teachers, for example, no longer were just my educators, but some of my best mentors as well. I thank Mrs. L Morgan for stressing that overworking myself only hurts my long-run productivity and that I should learn to take breaks from my work for my mental sanity. I thank Mrs. Hoffman for having faith in me as a student despite my poor UHS Physics test and quiz grades, encouraging me, and all of my classmates, to persevere for the entire year (in fact, not a single student in her class including myself dropped out of her arduous course, despite the many tears that rained down peoples’ faces). I thank Mrs. Wade for being open to helping me develop my public speaking skills. I will always remember her invaluable advice to imagine myself doing something I truly love right before I present to a large crowd. And of course, I thank Mrs. Dirtadian for generously spending time relieving the stress of my classmates and me before the dreaded exam that would determine for most of us whether or not we could be accredited for two semesters of calculus in college.  


As for my high school friends, I thank those who have constantly been willing to reach out to me especially during the pandemic, making me feel seen. One of mine, who lives all the way in Pennsylvania, took the time to send me a dear Christmas gift that will forever make my heart smile. Multiple people have taken the time to simply ask me, “how are you?”, an act I find captivating considering the loss of human connection caused by the pandemic. And I am eternally grateful for those who were willing to listen to me talk about issues through voice messages, sometimes while disgustingly clobbered up in tears and snot. Even though I still struggle to find value in myself, for now, I am thankful for others discerning the value in me, as I do for them.


It is crazy to think about how much my classmates and I have grown. I still remember my immature underclassmen days when I constantly ranted about little stupid things to my closest friends. I now regret those times for I realize that I cannot expect everyone to be perfect all the time, and instead praise those who are trying their best to at least improve upon our flaws. Likewise, I thank the people in my life who have been patient enough to be at my side despite the errors that I have and want to diminish. I am excited to see how my fellow peers will grow after being taught so much both academically and spiritually at Shaker.


I am so proud of how much the class of 2021 has accomplished despite what we had to endure to get where we are today. Congratulations to the fellow clarinetist who got into All-State and All-Eastern, the friendly competitive swimmer who got into sectionals her freshman year, and even my friend who got a shoutout in a sleeping product advertisement by one of her favorite singers. I know that we seldom publicly celebrate our accomplishments for fear of appearing too pretentious, which I completely agree with. Nevertheless, for just this one small moment in our lives when we are about to embark on a thrilling and mysterious new adventure after high school, let us celebrate our achievements and be proud of each other. Rather than perceiving them as vain individuals, I find profound pride in my friends who have exemplified that they are ready to tackle the future and foster inspiring changes.


There are so many teachers and friends that I could address in this speech who I am forever thankful for helping me to evolve from the taciturn boy who had yet to acknowledge that short haircuts and green Gap jackets displeased the eyes of many in 9th grade. Even though you were not directly addressed in this memoir, I still greatly thank you for being there, and I hope you continue to be a brilliant beacon of inspiration for other people, just as you all were for me. 


The days in which we complained about others a little too much, teased each other with borderline rude jokes, and made comments highlighting degrading racial stereotypes have faded away like snow in the early months of spring. Each of us has endured situations that forced us to mature, allowing us to connect with older adults like teachers to a stronger degree compared to elementary school. This reason, I believe, is why my Shaker teachers have been willing to treat us, a bunch of grungy adolescents, as legitimate people who deserve proper respect.


Therefore, as someone who is approaching the surreal time when I deem the title of an “adult,” I hope I am in a position in which I can offer my gratitude toward my educators and classmates without them believing I come from a place of obligatory nature. Perhaps this is how I would have felt in elementary school, compelled to thank my teachers just because it was customary to do so. But this is not the case—I truly hope my teachers and peers recognize that I wish to offer a very esteemed and cordial farewell that contains a level of gratitude and understanding that my younger self could never have yielded since I lacked enough emotionally entailing experiences.


In a world that looks down at Gen-Z as a bunch of pitiful idiots who are incapable of leading societies to greater advancements, I am eternally thankful for the teachers at Shaker who have identified and treated us as so much more. And as a member of Gen-Z, I thank others in my generation for giving me hope for our future and wish to instill you all with heightened confidence for promoting greater advancements in our world. I trust my teachers and peers to continue brightening our planet.


Teachers, friends, and everyone else at Shaker—you are seen.