Speech by Komal Dhull, Class of 2017 valedictorian
I would like to begin by extending my gratitude to those who have provided us with guidance and support throughout our high school years, as a result of which we are all here today.
Thank you to all Darien High School teachers, for encouraging us to challenge ourselves and helping us discover our passions. Thank you to our parents, for driving us to our extracurriculars, coming to our sports games and musical performances, and for believing in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves. And of course, thank you fellow members of the class of 2017 for making the past four years a memorable experience. Through homework completed the period before, late nights spent writing essays, and a barrage of standardized testing, we’ve finally made it. Congratulations!
I know that you’ve all been inundated with advice from the adults in your life who know you’re a senior in high school. Most of that is probably good advice— after all, they, unlike me, are speaking to you from a perspective broadened by not only college but years of workplace experience. But, today, I hope I avoid simply echoing the sentiments you’ve heard at Thanksgiving dinners and family gatherings.
When I first began learning to play the piano, I saw sheet music as series of instructions to be followed without question— notes to be played in order and tempo, volume and mood dictated by a forte or legato above or below the bar. My job, I thought, was to follow these directions as written, and the result would be a beautifully played song.
Much in the same way, it’s easy to get caught up in the view of life as a journey with a destination in mind, to believe that if you follow a specific series of steps you’ll find a lucrative career, 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, or whichever definition of success it is you prefer, waiting for you at the end.
But neither music nor life is formulaic.
As I moved to more difficult songs, my piano teacher gave me some advice: she told me to make the piece my own. She wanted me to add my own expression and emotion, instead of restricting myself to the instructions explicitly outlined in the music. The audience, she said, would be unlikely to notice a minor rhythmic mistake, but they’d take note of the feelings I poured into my performance. It was more important to craft a meaningful story with the music than it was to be entirely correct.
This lesson, I’ve found, applies to much more than a piano recital. Although we cannot always control what happens, each and every one of us has the power to shape what
we take away from our experiences. We gain what we put into them: opportunities for growth and learning abound, if only we are willing to work for them— to wake up at 5am for that morning practice, to stay in on a sunny weekend afternoon to finish that paper, or to spend those extra hours with a piece of music.
I, for instance, am not the same person I was four years ago. Fourteen year old me would have agonized over the prospect of giving a western civ presentation. Today, I’m standing up here, and thus far nothing particularly catastrophic has happened. I think this holds true for most of us— over the past four years, we’ve developed our sense of identity, learned to be more comfortable in our skins, and nurtured our interests. But the time for self-improvement is not over: your future experiences are vehicles for personal growth if you let them be.
Make mistakes, deal with the consequences, and then learn from them. Strive to become a better person. Seek out new and unfamiliar experiences— go scuba diving or learn to waltz. Do the sorts of things that would surprise the people who knew you in high school.
Class of 2017, I hope you make your experiences uniquely your own.