Class of 2019 Valedictorian Kevin Xiao addressed those gathered for Lawrenceville’s Commencement on Sunday. Please enjoy his Valedictorian Speech.
Thank you for that generous introduction, Head Master Murray.
I originally wanted to start this speech with all the shout-out requests that I have gotten, but then the list grew so long that I decided I might as well just read the student directory. So here goes: Courtney Abbott, Harrison Abromavage, Ije Achebe…
I realized about halfway through the Veracross directory that this would take way too long, and another major request that I’ve gotten is to keep this short and get to the point. With that in mind, I searched for inspiration in the place on campus where peak productivity and efficiency is achieved: the common room of Boys’ Lower. Here is where the freshmen debate the essential questions of life and existence: Is water wet? Is a hot dog a sandwich or a taco? Is swimming a sport if you can’t play it with your dad?
I want to tell you that my class discussions are better than this, that we regularly debate deep, existential questions like the meaning of life at the Harkness table. Yet, by the Fourth or Fifth time I heard Evan and Thomas rehash the criteria for sandwich-ness, I am convinced that these seemingly trivial arguments represent the some of the best Lawrenceville has to offer. Either that, or maybe the smell of the day student room has finally gotten to my head.
All jokes aside, it is only through these informal discussions that we develop the ability to communicate and communicate well for that matter. Whether we’re critiquing our wok over dinner in Kennedy pod or attending the latest town hall meeting in Heely, we constantly engage in conversations of all sorts. If Lawrentians can argue passionately and civilly about the wetness of water, then perhaps we have a chance at being able to disagree without being disagreeable when we talk about politics. We lay the foundation for the more difficult conversations whenever we partake in these smaller ones.
Lawrenceville is full of opportunities for us to do exactly that, encouraging us to take baby steps towards confronting the issues that face our generation. School initiatives like the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force enable us to speak candidly on sensitive topics that will improve the greater campus discussions. When we participate in all-School discussions or write for publications like The First Amendment, we show that we can talk about today’s polarizing issues without the vitriol or mudslinging that we see on television each day.
The more we participate in this dialogue, the better we become at listening and expressing ourselves for others. In this way, we prepare ourselves for the world beyond Lawrenceville, where there are no “Harkness” discussions, no requirements for how many times we should speak up in the boardroom, and no guidelines for how we ought to interact with one another. Every one of these conversations, no matter how big or small, that we’ve had here at Lawrenceville has shaped us into who we are today.
After I leave Lawrenceville, I probably won’t recall the first thing about Newton’s laws, but I will always remember Dr. Gaffney’s many cat-killing contraptions and the many times this term I was able to astound him with my uncanny ability to forget two entire terms of physics. Even if I can’t decipher a single word of 19th-century cursive handwriting anymore, my memories of Heely will forever include the “interpersonal skills” and our countless games of Paranoia. While I probably won’t remember the all-nighters I’ve pulled at Lawrenceville, including the one it took to write this speech, what I will never forget are the stories Mr. Hedberg told my sophomore English class about his immortal goat, the unhealthy number of times I’ve asked Dr. Blevins for extensions, or Mr. Kerney’s opinions on kale and politicians, neither of which are probably safe to repeat here.
To the underclassmen, every moment you have here is precious. When you’re long gone from Lawrenceville, you won’t wish that you had spent an extra hour studying for that Spanish test or wonder what would have happened if only you had written an extra page for that history essay. It’ll be those stupidly funny arguments you had with your roommate, those surprisingly deep conversations about life you had with your friends, and all the other memories you’ve made along the way that you’ll miss and wish you could relive. Make the most of those late-night conversations with your prefects, the mindless hours of InDesign in Pop basement with your fellow editors, the traditions you do with your Housemates after House banquets, while you still can. None of that will be ever the same without this exact group of people.
To my class of 2019, it has been the most humbling experience of my life to be a member of this class of graduating seniors. When I arrived on campus for the first time, in August 2015, I was amazed by how remarkably smart and capable everyone I met was. Today, that feeling of amazement from four years ago still rings true, but one thing has changed. The class of 2019 is no longer just the seniors who will receive their diplomas today; it includes every student and teacher who has touched our time here at Lawrenceville. We are who we are today only because of the brilliant teachers, student role-models, and lifelong friends that we’ve encountered at Lawrenceville. We truly are the product of the people around us.
As I scrolled through the 815 names and faces in today’s Veracross directory, the only thing that I can think of is how unique and extraordinary this group of people is. If I could stop time right here and now, I would. This is the last time that the class of 2019 will ever be together in the same time and place. While you still have the chance to make lasting memories with the people here today, take it for all it’s worth. Whether you’re excited or anxious for what the future holds for you, I urge each and every one of you to take a second to enjoy this moment for yourself.
Lastly and most importantly, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being the best classmates, teammates, artists, musicians, and leaders that I could ever have asked for. Thank you for lending your heads and hands to making these past four years the best years of my life. From the Harkness table to the lines of Abbott, it has been my greatest honor to share in the little and big conversations with the class of 2019. Thank you for everything.
For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.