We The Graduates: A Commencement Speech Written By The Class of 2020

“I'm not afraid to make my voice heard” — 2020 grads share their take on graduating amid a pandemic and protests and how they’ve changed.

We The Graduates collage
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ
We The Graduates collage
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ

We The Graduates: A Commencement Speech Written By The Class of 2020

“I'm not afraid to make my voice heard” — 2020 grads share their take on graduating amid a pandemic and protests and how they’ve changed.

This is a graduation season unlike any other. First a global pandemic. Now protests over police violence and racism. Against this backdrop, the Class of 2020 is marking this all-important milestone. 

They deserve our applause. Even now more than ever.

As part of #ChiGradWeek, WBEZ invited local high school grads to create a community commencement address.

Below is their We the Graduates speech, written line-by-line by the Class of 2020.

To my senior peers in the Class of 2020 …

It's time to celebrate, we did it!

Class of 2020, we really did it!

To all the first generation Class of 2020 students who were looking forward to walking down that stage, not only for themselves, but for their families — you are not forgotten.

One thing I’m not going to miss about high school? That’s easy …

I'm not going to miss the food, like, that's a given. … Two stale pieces of bread and a wet disc of beef — yeah, not going to miss that.

I'm not going to miss the smelly freshman boys.

During this pandemic you realize the drama in your school was really stupid. As in, it was so stupid that it doesn't even matter.

Something I will miss from high school …

The friends that I made during these past four years.

One thing I’m going to miss the most from high school is the student life: the vibes, the energy, the spirit.

My choir class … I loved making beautiful music and I can't imagine my life without it.

School is really a place where most of us could feel included and heard.

One thing I’m going to miss most from high school is my commute in the morning. I'd meet up with a friend who lives in my neighborhood, and every day we would walk past the church sign, which would have a different slogan each morning. Recently I think it's been saying, ‘Look on the bright side of life.’

How am I different than when I started high school four years ago …

It’s really hard to pick.

Where could I start?

I'm not afraid to make my voice or the voice of my fellow students heard anymore.

I realized halfway through high school that life is too short to live a life that's not yours.

I entered high school to one of the most polarizing elections in our nation's history, and I'm leaving high school to one of the world's largest collective crises. That has changed me in ways that I might not even understand yet.

Since high school has started, I've grown five inches, made new friends and learned a lot more about myself and the experiences of others

I was so scared to be different and I just wanted to fit in. So I decided to create my own path.

Thanks to my friends, I've loosened up a lot, and even learned to dance — albeit not very well.

One thing to know about finishing high school during a pandemic …

You don't miss all the things they tell that you’ll miss. You don't miss prom, really, or maybe even the graduation ceremony. But you miss goofing off in research class when you don't actually have to do your work, or walking through the hallways and seeing your friends.

I looked at this as an opportunity and not a pandemic.

I am different now because of the pandemic because it has made me recognize that I have to grow up faster than I would have if times were normal.

I never foresaw how a two-week break could turn into missing out pretty much half of my senior year.

For once, the adults and other people in power are doing what they can to make this better or at least more tolerable. We're not alone.

My advice to the Class of 2020 …

Don't sweat the small stuff.

Take action.

Finish strong. Keep dreaming big.

Just live your life to the fullest, like, be you.

I believe that our generation is an extremely powerful one. And once this heartache and these protests are over, we will continue to fight the inequality, the inequity, the injustice that we have been fighting — that it comes to a halt.

I think my generation will be the one to move the country forward by unearthing those heavy, heavy truths that no one really wants to talk about. These situations with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor prove that America has a deep, deep seated problem with racism.

I am a young black woman who believes that we can reach the solution if we just peel back the layers of hate and close-minded thinking.

Don't take anything for granted.

Live in the moment.

Because you never know what could happen next.

There’s so much good you could do.

Even though it may not seem like it … you got this.

Thanks to all We the Graduates contributors: Gabe Levi, Whitney Young Magnet High School; Trinity Price, Southland College Prep; Dannalee Mata; East Leyden High School; Carolina Solis, The Chicago High School for the Arts; Eliana Stern, Niles North High School; Jeimar Neiza, GCE Lab School; Lily Fitzgerald, Evanston Township High School; Azadi Mathew-Lewis, Kenwood Academy; Nakiyah Matthews, Westinghouse College Prep; Isabella Gomez-Barrientos, Francis W. Parker; Ari Dworkin-Cantor, Jones College Prep; Jared Saef, Francis W. Parker; Isaac Warshaw, Francis W. Parker; Alexis Ishmael, Jones College Prep; Sam Brody, Walter Payton College Prep; Savannah Taffe, Southland College Prep; Sophie Cohen, Lane Tech College Prep; Miracle Burres, Gary Comer College Prep; Mia Goldberg, Evanston Township High School; Olivia Dixon, Von Steuben High School; Anahi Ramirez, Waukegan High School; Moyosoreoluwa Odugbemi, Chicago Vocational Career Academy; Jamiah Dirkans, Hansberry College Prep; Adele Lowitz, Francis W. Parker; Safiyat Aminu, Curie High School; Micah Derringer, Francis W. Parker; Ashley Meeky, Southland College Prep.