Published June 12, 2014
By Montana Minnis, Valedictorian, BHS Class of 2014
I’d like to begin by thanking God, my parents, teachers, administrators and friends who’ve helped me along the way to stand where I’m currently standing. I especially would like to thank my family and my parents, as they’ve always been my most important supporters, and they continue to push me to do my very best.
During the second semester of my freshman year, I made it my goal to become the Valedictorian. After I realized that this goal was within my reach, this left me with approximately three years to think about a speech, and I can assure everyone that I’ve been thinking about this moment for a long time. As I thought about what I wanted to say with my only opportunity to speak to the entire graduating class, I made a conscious decision that I did not want to simply entertain everyone with some corny jokes and a vague, yet happy-go-lucky message at the end. No, I decided that I wanted to give anyone that’s willing to listen a message with a heartfelt meaning behind it. There were many ideas that I considered for this speech, but most of those ideas were too controversial. However, I believe that the topic I chose tonight is both serious and optimistic, and I wanted to keep a serious tone with my time on stage, but I wanted to ensure that everyone was at least mildly interested in what I have to say. I’ve been informed that it’s very difficult to listen for three whole minutes.
“Although I stuck with the goal to become valedictorian throughout the years here at Belton, the motivation behind the goal has changed greatly. I’ve always loved learning and performing well in school. But the freshman version of myself simply thought that graduating at the top of my class would be an impressive achievement. As the years dragged on, impressing people became much less important. I realized that I could help and motivate others with my academic interests, and I greatly benefitted from realizing this. My identity underwent a transition that turned me into a better person. What started as an academic challenge eventually became a platform that could be used for the benefit of others. Looking back at this allows me to see how much people, including myself, can change from one moment to the next. Our identities in relation to our school, to our families and to our friends are always changing. Some moments in our lives are filled with more changes than others, and I would say that the movement from high school to whatever lies ahead is one of these moments. This is a moment filled with potential, and I want to encourage everyone to really think about how your identity could evolve as you leave the realm of high school. The identities that have been built at Belton High School will be pushed aside to make room for new experiences and new understandings. Time won’t stop or slow down, and it won’t wait around for you to figure out what’s next. You’ll have an opportunity to reshape your identity, and whatever lies ahead is not what you knew in high school. It’s very important to remember that you do not have to let your community, your family, or your friends dictate who you are or who you may become. Some of you may feel that your community won’t accept those who violate the norms, those who are different, but I really want to emphasize that your surroundings do not and probably should not dictate your goals, interests and values. In fact, the greatest individuals are those who couldn’t care less about norms. I don’t think anyone has been remembered for being perfectly normal. This claim should be freeing, but, like most good ideas, it’s easier to discuss than it is to put into action. Always keep in mind that you’re the only person who ultimately decides who you are. I believe that we all have a rough understanding of the type of person that we’re becoming, but this understanding often gets challenged by life, which is completely unpredictable at times. It’s hard to plan around all of the unexpected moments, and it’s not always easy to fix the problem, even when the solution is right in front of you. Despite the chaos of life, I believe the biggest threat to your future is you if you choose to be someone whom you dislike. Now, why would you choose to be someone whom you dislike? Well, I can assure you that it wouldn’t be a conscious choice. It would be a progression that slips by you unnoticed until it’s too late, and I’m sure everyone in the crowd has known someone who fits this description. Always think about who you are, who you’re becoming, and the impressions that you’re leaving on others. Don’t be afraid to cut old ties that constrain you and to keep the helpful ones. Don’t be afraid to create some new ties, even if they take you into unfamiliar or unexpected directions. Learn about yourself and continue remembering that changing yourself probably won’t be helpful if you don’t consider what’s valuable to you and what your goals are. Examining yourself is the only way to make the necessary adjustments for your own goals. Now, there is some time before the transition from high school officially ends, but I do think that the next couple of years will be very significant and transformative with respect to our identities and the choices that make them. Don’t worry – I’m almost done. I’m not really a fan of quotes, so I’ll end simply by thanking everyone again for listening. Good luck, graduates, and I hope that, when you look back, you will realize that you made the right choice with respect to your identity and your goals. Thank you.