Photo Credit: Emily Wise/Used with permission
Hello to my fellow classmates, families, and friends …
I’ve been given 30 minutes to speak this evening … but I think I can manage to get it done in 8! Here goes!
“Your life starts now.” How many times have you been told this is when your story begins: the moment where your are entirely uprooted and you enter the real world? Well, I don’t know about you, but I refuse to believe that we are simply migrating from “stop” to “start” the moment we graduate. I like to think we are on a journey of continuous growth. Consider a vine. The way it twists and turns, extending outwards beyond its starting point in relentless pursuit of a greater space to fill. Along the way, it diverges into branches, which overlap and intertwine in a unique and graceful pattern. In what moment does its life truly begin or end? Now, I’m not here to give you a biology lesson—as Mrs. Perrella knows, I’m nowhere near qualified for that. I am here to tell you the story—the story of what led me to Academy, a seed planted that has taken root and grown among 101 others to become a splendid vine and will continue to grow even after we hang up our caps and gowns tonight. I can make no promises other than presenting the honest, or “unfiltered,” truth.
To illustrate the level of transparency I intend to uphold, I may as well start by exposing myself and my family-the Dingles unplugged, as my mom likes to call it. The core of our family dynamic is this: we love structure. Our specialties include being 15 minutes early to every social gathering, planning our family trips with an itinerary down to the second, and, of course, making well-informed decisions. When it came to choosing a high school, we behaved no differently, conducting an intense operation including but not limited to countless interviews, research, and shadowing collected on the usual high school suspects in our area. I have the five-page Excel spreadsheet to prove it.
You could say our methods were a bit over the top—perhaps more suited for a college decision. Yet, to our complete and utter shock, our results were inconclusive. It’s safe to say that we were treading into foreign territory—last minute decisions were not our style. With 2 days left to make a decision, our parents decided to set aside the data and spend time praying and reflecting. Without a spreadsheet in sight, my mom drove down Bayshore and pulled into the parking lot of what would be her first and final destination: the Academy of the Holy Names. In classic Kim Dingle fashion, her first plan of action was to pick up her Bible and turn to a random page, hoping for spiritual guidance. She landed on Ezekiel Chapter 17-The Parable of Two Eagles and a Vine, a story that was nothing special from 1st glance.
Enter Verse 8: “it was planted in good soil beside abundant waters, that it might yield branches and bear fruit and become a splendid vine.”
There might be something there, but I better keep reading , she thought to herself.
Sure enough, a few verses later, is verse 23 “”On the high hill, I will plant it…And birds of every kind will nest under the shade of its branches.”
At this point, the parallels began to jump off the page.
-“beside abundant waters”
-“on the high hill”
-“under the shade of its branches”
Sounds to me like the view pulling into Academy.
This provided immediate confirmation to my parents that Academy was where my sister and I were meant to be, and here we are today as living proof. By now, some of you may be thinking we read a little too far into this. You may be right—but I can assure you that we had only scratched the surface of its meaning.
This idea of a vine has become a sort of metaphor to me of the defining traits our class has developed along the way.
Walking into the Academy building as timid freshmen yet pretending to have all of the self-assurance in the world, we first found ourselves confused and slightly intimidated by the way upperclassmen belted out songs like “peel the banana” without reservation at orientation. After finally figuring out which side of the building was which, we shuffled our way into our classrooms, where we faced teachers who challenged us to form our own opinions and defend them in classroom discussion. This sparked raw, multifaceted debates over everything from American government to representation of women in the media. In these moments, we came to acquire the first element of our shared identity, or the root of the vine: CONFIDENCE. Our mission was not yet set, but we know that to find lasting meaning in each other we must first find comfort within our own skin. With confidence as our foundation, we found ways to build from roots into branches, expanding into new circles of friends, taking on larger roles in and outside of the classroom, and above all being unapologetically ourselves: a class that may lack organization at times but makes up for it by embracing both success and failure with grace and determination. COURAGE became the second building block of our identity. Filled with resolve to finish out our high school careers on a strong note, we entered senior year completely unaware of the storm called college decisions that was about to hit. In the moments that followed, the most beautiful thing happened: we learned to look beyond ourselves and rely on each other when we needed it most, forming what would be our third building block: COMPASSION. We were no longer single vines striving to better ourselves but an intricate web collectively striving to bring out the best in one another.
Why should this idea of interconnectedness matter to us? A few days ago, my dad emailed me an article from the Wall Street Journal. Now, this has come to be a regular occurrence in our household where he sends us long emails with articles offering advice to which he typically receives no reply or acknowledgement (Sorry, Dad). This time around, I actually decided to read what it had to say, perhaps out of pure intrigue but more likely because I was feeling some guilt over the increase in tuition my parents will shortly be paying. The article’s premise rests on a single statement which claimed to be “the secret no one will tell you.”
The secret is this-Nobody really knows what they’re doing. Nobody. Not even our teachers or our parents, although they do a fantastic job of swooping in and saving the day to make it appear as so.
As we enter this new stage of our life, perhaps without the same dose of reassurance we are used to, we are facing uncertainty beyond compare, as many like to remind us. Yet, fixating on this uncertainty will prevent us from seizing the amazing growth opportunity right in front of us. There are two things we must remember. #1- We are all works in progress. A common misconception is that our life is leading up to some profound moment where we have officially “made it” and can sit back, relax, and take a backseat knowing the rest of our time is smooth sailing. But, that is not the case. We’re not done growing. We will never be done growing. And that’s the beauty of life. The second thing we must never forget is that we are not meant to go through life alone. Look at the people around you—classmates, teachers, family members, friends. Whether you believe it or not, they are as equally clueless to what their future will hold as you are, although some may hide it better than others. Because of this, we must recognize the power in solidarity and the lasting friendships we have found at the Academy, which will continue to support and strengthen us as we head our separate ways. I believe more than anything that empowered women empower women. Empowerment takes confidence in oneself and the courage to reach out to others, but most importantly, it takes compassion—the act of recognizing that we may not have the answers to solve each other’s problems but there is no way that we’re letting each other face it alone.
To my Papa, who is too sick to join us tonight, thank you for being the backbone of our family and living everyday without complaint. To my parents, thank you for choosing the Academy and supporting me every day since. To my sister Ashley, thank you for not losing it when I’m not ready at 7:25 every morning and showing me what compassion truly means through your effortless acts of selflessness. To the Academy, thank you for raising up confident, courageous, and compassionate young women who empower one another. And, finally, to the class of 2019, my teammates, encouragers, role models, and friends, you are the reason I have never once doubted that decision my family made four years ago. As we spread our roots across the country, my challenge for us is to never stop growing, learning, achieving, empowering, and fighting for what we believe in and to remember that we, like vines, are so much stronger together than apart!