The speeches that didn’t make it, Class of 2016: Part 4 – Allison Zhang

Emilia Diaz-Magaloni, Author

The Paly Voice acquired the following speeches from their authors, with their authors’ consent to publish. The authors wrote the speeches with the intention of delivering them at graduation, but were not selected by a panel of staff members. The views stated in these speeches do not necessarily reflect the views of The Paly Voice, nor those of its staff.

Graduation Speech: Allison Zhang

Good evening, everyone.

We are here today to celebrate a special moment, one marking not only the transition of the Class of 2016 from high school to our life beyond but our advance from childhood towards adulthood. This is precisely why today I advocate for retaining the best qualities of childhood: curiosity, imagination, and living in the present.

When we were children, our world was fascinating. We were captivated by clouds in the shape of dogs, trees, and planes, by static electricity that makes our hair stand on end, and by ants carrying bread crumbs nearly as big as themselves. To see what would happen, we may have committed mass murder by kicking in an anthill. Always eager for excitement, we dropped Mentos in a king-size Coke and then admired the foam shooting skyward. Such antics were not prompted in hopes of any specific reward; back then we weren’t college-resume-building. No, we were simply curious

We not only closely observed our environment, we also wanted to disturb it. Curiosity got Isaac Newton cogitating about the fallen apple and then deriving the law of gravity. Curiosity made Benjamin Franklin contemplate lightning, leading him to basic concepts about electricity. Recently, founders of Sushirrito Restaurant in Palo Alto must have pondered fusing Japanese sushi with Mexican burritos. Such triumphs suggest the benefits of retaining our curiosity and seeing where it leads us.

An essential guide is our imagination. The French scientist Louis Pasteur wanted to find the “invisible enemy” that causes rabies. People repeatedly told him that since it was invisible, he wouldn’t find it. Luckily for humanity, that didn’t stop Pasteur, who imagined that organisms could be so small as to be invisible to the eye and saved countless lives. According to Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” In fact, imagination often brings forth new knowledge and can catalyze change. Imagining that all people deserve rights and can contribute to society was essential for freeing slaves and giving the vote to women. Imagination led Nikola Tesla to combine telephony and computing, which has morphed into today’s smartphone industry. Now, in the palm of our hands, we can learn everything from the Pythagorean Theorem to how many jumping jacks are required to burn calories from a Big Mac. (Pretend to tap, hold up phone) That answer, by the way, is 375. In school, too, imagination is precious. Learning U.S. history, we deepen our understanding when we imagine what life at the height of the Great Depression felt like for 25% of the labor force who were unemployed. Inevitably, we also imagined Mr. Jack Bungarden’s disapproving expression as he read our scribbled responses to document-based questions. In AP Environmental Science, we envisioned the impact of rising sea levels and resource depletion on people and other life forms; we also recall Mr. Kenyon Scott’s seemingly endless optimism and positivity, his legacy to each of us. After we leave Paly, let’s take with us our imagination.

As children, we lived in the present. Remember telling us to save our Halloween candy? No way! As we grew up, we recognized we have a future, and we learned to plan ahead. In the fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” the ant worked all summer long to store food for winter. All summer long, the carefree grasshopper sang, and, as winter approached, found itself hungry. We are trained to be ants. As high school students, many of us planned for college. As college students, we will plan for careers. When we work, we should save for retirement. I certainly don’t praise procrastination, but sometimes we work so hard for and expect so much from what lies ahead that we miss our here and now. We should not make the mistake of living only for the future; after all, the time in which we truly live is the present, is now. As cartoonist Bil Keane put it, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Let us always treasure the gift of today.

Childhood is a time when we expanded our world, a time when we hadn’t closed ourselves off or given up on our dreams, a time when we were very much alive. My hope for each of us here, whether you are 8 or 18 or 80 or more, is that, as we venture forth, we are curious and imaginative and live in the present. Thank you.