Dream Big, Execute Big
Ayana Opong-Nyantekyi was one of two students selected to speak on behalf of the Class of 2019.
A little over two weeks ago, I was honored to learn that I was nominated by the faculty and students to be one of our commencement speakers. I arrived at Penn Charter as a shy 13-year-old. I have gained confidence in the power of my voice through my Public Speaking class, my involvement in the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, my influence on the swim team and with the Social Justice Club, and my improved participation in my classes. Despite this increased confidence, I felt a bit overwhelmed about exactly what I would say to you today. I anxiously met with Mrs. Moses. In her calm voice, she simply advised me: “Ayana, you just need to write the best speech that you have ever written, and it needs to be a speech that your classmates will remember for the rest of their lives.” I could only look at her and laugh.
Although I wanted her to simplify the task, she did not because, in reality, it is not a simple task. We got to work by researching commencement speeches from previous years. I could not help but notice a lot of them made jokes about different teachers. I thought about all the funny memories from my five years at Penn Charter; I even tried to make stuff up like Mr. Zuccotti does in class, but I could not. I guess because I’m not a lawyer yet. In all honesty, we truly have a valuable faculty and staff who work endlessly to help us obtain success.
In the classrooms, our teachers not only intellectually challenge us beyond our limits, but they treat us as equals and make us laugh. From the vibrant welcome we get from Mr. Wright every morning, to Miss Amber’s gentle kindness when making salads, to Miss Ya Ya’s gracious presence as she attempts to mask the noxious smell of the basement, our teachers, coaches, faculty and staff have made us feel safe, cherished, and known.
It’s the little things they do—from a smile in the parking lot, to words of encouragement in the hallway, to a needed hug—they show us they care. I believe that at least one person, if not more, in this community has made an memorable impact on each and every one of our lives. And for that, on the behalf of Class of 2019, I would like to sincerely thank all of you for your leadership and dedication.
There are 107 of us graduating today from this 330-year-old institution. There are 107 unique individuals, from 107 distinctive backgrounds, with 107 incredible personalities and purposes in this world. We are collectively a part of one body where we learned the importance of Quaker values, diversity and inclusion, service and public purpose. It is our dedication to live these values that define our leadership within the Penn Charter community and in society.
We are graduating today as a class of 107, and all 107 of us are challenged to implement the skills we have learned at Penn Charter in next part of our journey. These skills may not necessarily be the tools to help us easily fit into the world around us, but they are the tools we need to change it. We all have a distinguished purpose for our lives: whether it be to become a veterinarian like Ariel, a famous football coach like Terrence, a principal jazz musician like Nick Djerassi or Cole, an orthopedic surgeon for an NFL team like Bianca, a famous comedian like Elijah, a reality TV star like Emily Goldberg, a kindergarten teacher like Briana Reyes, a Nobel prize winner like Amelia, or the next Head of School at Penn Charter like David Garnick (watch yourself, Dr. Ford). I have confidence that we will all make an impact on our society because of how we have prepared to live our lives. As a result of our Senior Projects—also known as our first true step outside of the Penn Charter bubble—I can wholeheartedly report that we have already started to make a difference.
Along with managing our classes and our outside-of-school schedules, we shared numerous memories along the way as a class. During the daylong leadership conference in the heat of October freshmen year, we were all just trying to get to know one another. We were challenged to leave our comfort behind in order to triumph over the rugged rock climbing wall; we endured miles of hiking in unknown terrain, and learned how to work together, which has been a difficult task. The endless bus ride to New York City in tenth grade brought us to the 9/11 museum that broke our hearts and humbled our souls. As we stood around the prayer mat at the Islamic Cultural Center School, walls of difference were broken. Junior year, the forceful winds limited our 48 hour trip in Washington D.C to a mere 24 hours that coincided with our panic that our bus would tip over. Despite that experience, we learned valuable information visiting some of the museums. Throughout our high school years, we have become familiar with one another because we are a small community. While we have our differences, we have grown to see the positives within one another to allow us to enjoy each other’s company, especially at events like the Senior Retreat, Back-to-School Dance, Prom, the blue team’s dominance in our shortest color day tug-of-war ever, and the recent Rafting Trip.
Now as it is our time to leave Penn Charter, we must never forget the valuable lessons we established here. I am not naive enough to believe that our entire experience was as blissful as we may have wished, but I truly hope we all can admit to and honor the beautiful aspects of our school. We have grown into incredible individuals not only because of the support of our family and friends, but also because of the foundation of values and opportunities that Penn Charter instilled in us. It is these opportunities that will change our lives forever.
While it is time to pop our Penn Charter bubble to explore the world beyond, let us remember the joyful, irreplaceable memories we made during our time at Penn Charter. In the wonderful words of Dr. Maya Angelou, “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.” Therefore, I encourage you, the amazing Class of 2019, to not only dream big, but execute big. With great grace and excellence, it is our time to leave Penn Charter, and bring 107 uniquely powerful stories into the world beyond.