Vanessa Ewing Speech

We'll keep moving forward after this, faster than ever.

Vanessa Ewing was one of three students selected to speak on behalf of the Class of 2020 during the virtual Commencement ceremony.

Hi guys! How's quarantine? What's everyone been cooking recently? Cookies? Brownies? Vegan cauliflower pasta, Julia? Yes, this is sadly what all greetings have come to: how's quarantine, whatcha been cooking? Well, I really wish this wasn't how I had to greet you, so I'm gonna go with the more classic route, and act like all of you are here with me. I do have a pretty good imagination, and I can actually see all the proud parents and grandparents sitting in front of me, eyes brimming with tears, and all of the younger siblings bored out of their minds, waiting for this to be over, who I don't blame because I was one of them four years ago.

So hi to all of you, the Class of 2020, and all the people who helped us get here. I'm gonna try to make this at least a little less boring than you'd expect a virtual commencement speech to be, but I do have to start with a couple of thank-yous. First, of course, to my mom and my dad, and my brother, Nate, I guess. Thanks for raising me at home, helping shape this awesome person you see on the screen, and for bringing me to Penn Charter 12 years ago. Second, thank you to Colleen, my lacrosse coach in and out of school, who's given me more rides than any other person ever, and has raised me on the field as a player and a person. Third, to all the teachers who've taught me since first grade, not just fundamentals in school, but fundamentals in life, and how to be the best version of myself. Thanks for raising me at school. Combined with my classmates, people who have all at once been my best friends, worst enemies, people to argue and annoy and make up with, to make mistakes and learn and grow with, people who've taken care of me and helped me out the many many times I've needed it, you all have created this PC family for me, supporting, teaching, and once in a while scolding me when I need it, and having fun the whole time. 

I love this PC family more than I could possibly describe, and I've been lucky enough to experience some of the many successes of this class, but I'm gonna start with a little setback. Have all of you heard of gaga? If not, it's a game where everyone gets into a sort of ring, or pit as we call it, and you hit a ball on the ground and try to hit it against the other players' feet. If you get hit knee or below, you're out. Usually about 20 people start in the pit, and you end up with one winner. We begged for a gaga pit at PC – begged. And finally in Middle School, our wish was granted. Everyone would go out at lunch and recess to play, but then, just like that, after all our dreams had come true, it was taken away. Our class was "too competitive," and gaga was bringing out the worst of it, so the pit was removed. We were devastated. We really did love that game, and ever since I can remember, this class has loved any kind of competition. Whether it was the birthday game with Mr. E, sprinting across the floor when your birthday month was called; math basketball with Mr. B, spitting out multiplication tables like your life depended on it; or getting picked for singing or instrument solos by Ms. Lee for concerts, we all thrived on competing in all aspects of our PC lives, academics, athletics and the arts, since Lower School. While our competitive nature led to the tragedy of the gaga pit, competitiveness has been a source of great success for this class, as well. We have star athletes, lead actors and actresses, numerous band and chorus soloists, songwriters, entrepreneurs, Olympic-trial qualifiers, and academic intelligence beyond compare. But most of all, we have leaders, leaders in the classroom, on the field, and on the stage, who aren't afraid to believe in themselves and stay true to their beliefs no matter what other people think because leaders are first and foremost competitors. They work as hard as they can, lead by example, and they put it all on the line to succeed and do what's best for themselves and the people around them. That's who we are, that's the Class of 2020, and while it might've lost us our gaga pit, we've gained a lot more. 

Being "too competitive" doesn't sound like a good thing, but I don't think competitiveness is the problem. It's the foundations, the underlying character, that's where problems can occur. But luckily for us, we had Penn Charter. No matter if you came in kindergarden or 12th grade, Quaker values – the ones we all like to complain about – are instilled into each person who comes to this school. Two of these values that describe our class are community and equality. The community bond in the 2020 class is remarkable. The friendships we have are unbreakable, no matter how long they've existed – years or months. Looking in the yearbook, I was reminded of this by Troi Rutherford and Leah Sax who had a page in the back dedicated to their 13 years of friendship. Even if they did have to go to Ms. Reedich twice a week to settle arguments, the ability of these two to stay close friends through each phase of their lives is incredible. They've fought and made up for 13 years, and everyone knows they'll continue to for a long time. People care about each other, too, not just about their friends, but the people they aren't friends with. I remember once when a classmate was going through a tough time and I saw people signing the giant poster we made who I never thought would, writing kind words with love and care. Because of this strong community bond, equality isn't hard to achieve. And I know there have been complaints about athletics being honored more than the arts and theater, but I really believe that this class has a great respect for each other's talents. In the senior lounge I hear people who've never been involved in the arts talking about how well Paige McAllister can sing, and how awesome Justin Wilson's performances are. I hear incredible singers like Rose Klales talking about and making efforts to go to sports games, even if she doesn't know the difference between a touchdown and a field goal, and I see Division I athletes like Sara Shipon, who hates singing, sitting in the front row at musicals like The Addams Family. These qualities have allowed the 2020 class to build a strong foundation rooted in kindness and respect for others, and combined with our "too competitive" spirit, we have been able to accomplish great things while still being great people. 

I know it feels like we've missed everything: Senior Prom, the SCP, Color Day and the tug of war, and most of all, graduation. We don't get the senior second semester that we were promised, we don't even get to say bye to our school, to have a last day of high school that we know is our last day of high school. I know we've all been sad about this, and I don't feel ready to leave my family or my home of 12 years, or to give up what we've lost. But as I thought more, and reminisced with friends about camping trips, Color Days, and eighth grade Spanish with Madame Simone, I was reminded of some of the funnest, funniest and best times of my life with my favorite people. We've been so lucky to go to a place that's taught us not only how to be determined, competitive and never give up, but also to honor the light within everyone, to see the good in all people and honor each other's differences. It still hurts to think of our losses, but we've gained more than we've lost.

We've worked hard, and we're by far the toughest class, not just because of what we've had to deal with and lose over the past few months, but because of our attitudes about it – how we've responded – which reflects the character we've had since Lower and Middle School. That competitiveness that started fights on the playground and long arguments over who's better, blue or yellow? – it's obviously blue – got our gaga pit taken away, and lost Will Flemming a couple teeth in a PE hockey game – it might have had some negative consequences then, but it definitely is an asset to us now. We don't take no for an answer, and if we lose, which is rarely, we come back stronger the next time. This setback can't hold us down, and I'm confident that all of us will get up stronger. As the most famous athlete in Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa, once said "The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place... You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." We're all gonna keep moving forward after this, faster than ever, and when the world opens back up I know we're gonna conquer it with whatever we do because of who we are. The competitive spirit never dies, and it's why we've been so successful, and why we will go on to be even more successful out there, in the real world we're about to enter, the after high school life, the OPC life. Let's go out there and crush it.

More Speeches

Jeffrey Reinhold P '12, Clerk of Overseers
Akeel Blake OPC '20
Noah Evans OPC '20
Patrick Cannon OPC '20