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. Each speech went through an evaluation process on May 19 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.
by Hillel Zand
Ladies and gentlemen, graduates of the class of 2014:
I would like to start off by talking about where you are sitting. Welcome, one and all, to the Palo Alto High School Quad. The Quad is resilient. It is the hub of campus, a staple of daily life. But to me, what the Quad really represents is learning; it is where we as students learn to be social.
I’ve learned quite a bit about human interaction in high school classrooms. I’ve learned about humans being social creatures, about how methods of communication have changed, about social tendencies. But let’s be real here: in 10 years, we’re only going to remember a fraction of what we’ve learned in the classroom. Learning really happens outside the classroom, places like the Quad — at parties, at friends’ houses, on meaningless car rides.
Just as much as the Quad facilitates, it also depreciates. As hard as I try, I will rarely stand out from my peers on this patch of grass. There is little to differentiate one Viking from the other. So I began to wonder: Why is it so hard to stand out?
Conformity. In order to appease others’ needs, we conform. The boys and girls we were on the first day of freshman year are long-lost from the young men and women we are today. For better or worse, we’ve developed new habits, met new people and changed our lifestyles.
On the Quad, we conform. So today, I ask you this: On your last day at Paly, what have you done to be noticed?
Both inside and outside the classroom, it takes more effort to stand out than to go along with what everyone else is doing. And when we try to be different, we often fail. Thus, I have learned these four years that the answer to “What can I do to stand out” is just that: make mistakes.
I hate mistakes. I hate them with all my power, and you probably do too, but we have to respect them.
Let me tell you about a mistake I made:
On the very first day of senior year, on this very Quad, I made the mistake of taking off my clothes and running — ever so slowly — across the grass you sit on. Sure, it’ll be a good story to tell my grandchildren one day, but it was in the heat of the moment, a moment of deindividuation.
As I dealt with a two-day suspension, I realized that I had a choice. I could choose how I wanted to be different. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I decided to take the one less traveled by. When I returned to school, I made sure that I did not let that incident define me. I made the conscious decision to stand out by building relationships with the administration, fostering conversation and — with the support of Ms. Diorio — helping usher in a new wave of senior legacy.
To me, standing out means accepting the learning potential that comes with the inevitable mistakes we have made and will make. It’s not the mistake itself that makes us stand out, it’s the process of making sense of the past in a way that provides true learning and growth that makes us stand out.
As we begin a new chapter in our lives, we must not be afraid to make mistakes, but more importantly, we must not be afraid to learn from them. Most will conform to the stigma that their mistake binds them to. Most will be afraid of standing out.
Class of 2014: In order to differentiate ourselves, we must make mistakes. Be the one to fail. In fact, I challenge you to fail. Learn from such mistakes. Defy societal expectations and stand out for the right reasons: for being innovative, for being witty, for not conforming.
Conformity squanders potential. Embrace the accidental potential that lies within each of us.
Thank you, good night and good luck.