Graduation Speech: Romen der Manuelian '23

"We chose to do those things because they create skills that form the foundation of being the most knowledgeable people we can be—not to be better than others but to unlock the boundless potential of our best selves."

In addition to their warm and wise reflections on their time at Commonwealth, this year's 2023 graduation speakers (not valedictorian and salutatorian—we do things differently here) reminded us of the power we all hold within ourselves: to overcome challenges, to be compassionate, to prioritize self-care, to tap into our potential, as Romen so notes in his speech below. 

The typical American high school doesn’t exist. It’s a stereotype, put to the screen by shows like Euphoria. We know the jokes, the social scene obsessed with the quarterback and his cheer captain girlfriend, the bad food and bathroom vaping, and the terrible football team that culturally overshadows the amazing soccer team. It’s fun to make fun of this place that’s different from Commonwealth. We tell ourselves that we’re built different, as the meme goes, and we are. We’d surely be at the bottom of these mythical social pyramids, but we console ourselves with believing we would go against the tide at Quarterback High. 

But while that stereotype is only a stereotype, Commonwealth is as far away from it as possible. Commonwealth is where intellectualism meets rugged individualism. But, there is also no other place that balances the goals of individualist self-reliance with the compassion of a loving heart. It’s that compassion that I will remember about my classmates, even more than their astonishing intelligence.

Sometimes it’s small things, like when Elias or Penny asks “are you okay” on a rough day, or when Parth sprang into action when a stranger needed help with groceries. It can be the way Charlee lights up a room with his undeterrable kindness, or how calm came to a tense room thanks to the quiet giggles in the corner from Miles McLean. And you know, Commonwealth sports means so much more than sports, especially since there isn’t much of the sports (sorry, Mr. Elliott). There may not be fans like at Quarterback High, though Ms. Poynter could give them a run for their money. But when on the field, when all you have is the game you love, and the brothers and sisters you cherish, you have nothing less than the Quarterback himself. Every blunder, every success, everyone stands together. I can remember Michael from the time we shared a hug after working together to put a ball in the back of Marie Phillip’s net, I can remember Ben from the time he helped me up after an error in the goal. When I broke my ankle in February, I was met with equal kindness from close friends and less acquainted acquaintances. Ted made time to come watch basketball with me. Every time I ran into Eliza in the halls and classes, she always asked how my recovery was going, always. The first time I ever spoke to Meredith over text, she reached out about my ankle, and I regret that that was such a late first time. And how could I forget my loyal friend…César Pérez. He stopped by to check out how I was doing, and then spent the next hour first briefly touching on Cuban literature before mentioning his life in Cuba…so, basically, Spanish class. Our community cares. The truth is, the compassion for my situation was only a iota of our community’s response in the face of many greater hardships some have faced.

If JFK, an idol of mine, who always sought to push the boundaries of possibility, was here now, giving this speech, he would say, “We choose to go to Commonwealth not because it is easy, but because it is hahd.” Now for those of my classmates who’ve said that I’m an old guy in a teenager’s body, let me make it entirely clear: I did not actually see JFK give that speech. But what I do genuinely believe is that the combined power of heart and head in all of us will really drive great innovation, no matter how large or small, just how that great Boston man envisioned. Years from now, I see Alex redefining media, I see Linda solving the hardest math questions ever pondered, I see Ava’s literary analysis taught in classrooms by future Ms. Tysons, all while they maintain their radiating kindness to everyone around. A while back, I was listening to this song called “Homesick.” The lyrics go “I’m mean, because I grew up in New England. I got dreams, but I can’t make myself believe them.” The despair in these lines is something we’ve all tapped into, at the moments when our grade felt most divided, at moments when the academics seemed meanest, at the moments our self-love chose to hibernate. During those moments, I would remember the things Mr. Wharton used to say about failure: Failure is a moment of introspection. You find things out from failing that you don’t find out when you succeed. One of my favorite assembly speakers, Benjamin Zander, said that whenever he heard a mistake in his orchestra, his first response was “how fascinating!” It’s true. Right now in our lives, trying and failing is a wonderful experiment, and that is a privilege. 

It’s a privilege because, to John F. Kennedy, failure could sometimes mean destroying the human race; the same cannot be said for your Chem problem set. John F. Kennedy said we chose to go to the moon. In my opinion, choosing to go to Commonwealth is like choosing to go to the moon. We could pay less and sleep more staying on the ground. But all the close reading preparing for the Budding pop quizzes, the grammar corrections for Ms. Brewster that you thought were pointless, the difference between mitosis and miosis that has zero application to your humanities career: we chose to do those things because they create skills that form the foundation of being the most knowledgeable people we can be—not to be better than others but to unlock the boundless potential of our best selves. And because of that, this graduation is only the first moon. You will go to many moons, because the personality that brought you to Commonwealth will act as a rocket. Let the true compassion inside of you be the reason to go to the moon. Let your brain be the way you get there. And so, no matter for yourself, your God, your family, or your country, find the moons you’d die for and live for them. Thank you. 

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