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CHS Graduation Speeches 2017 06/19/2017

Posted by cwnewssite in Uncategorized.

At Collingswood High School, seniors submit speeches to be read during our Graduation Ceremony. This year, we had some spectacular examples of narratives that moved us to tears, laughter, and introspection. Rarely are young people able to paint the pictures that these students have presented to our community. Enjoy!

Zena Saifo


About 15 years ago, my parents were in a position similar to where we all are today. They, too, were bracing themselves to leave behind all that they knew and begin a new part of their lives. However, my parents were not preparing themselves to enter a new school or job. They were instead preparing themselves to enter a new country.

My parents were born and lived their whole lives in Syria. We were living a comfortable lifestyle in the country, but when my mother found out that she had another baby on the way, our family decided it was time for a change. Because the economy and lifestyles in Syria changed so much compared to when my mother and father were younger, they decided that they wanted the best for my brothers and me and were willing to do anything to make sure of it. My mother and father knew that they would not be able to provide our family with opportunities if we remained in Syria and they wanted to ensure that we would have successful futures ahead of us. They decided that it would be best to risk it all and move to the United States, the land of freedom and opportunity.

If you all think that moving into a college dorm is difficult, just imagine the struggles my parents experienced when moving all the way across the world. My parents left behind the comforts and contentment of their homes to come to the U.S. They left behind their country, which held their spirits and souls. They left behind their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins, the people they shared not only their blood with, but also the people whom they shared a deep bond with. They left behind their culture, the one thing that they were so accustomed to since they were children. They left behind all that they’ve ever known and began a completely new life for our family.

My mother and father took a huge risk and were brave enough take on the role as first generation immigrants and leave their homeland for our family. My parents did not care that they had to abandon the lives they had created for themselves in Syria. My father did not care that he basically had to start over and go from place to place, begging for a job in this country. My mother did not care that she had to face the prejudice and bigotry from others by defying societal norms and wearing a headscarf. Their compassion and love for us has been evident as it has been portrayed through their actions and characters. My parents learned that they always must do what is right, and that is a significant lesson that they have taught me. I learned from them that I must remain selfless and prioritize others’ needs above my own.

My parents have always been such great role models to me and have shown this many times throughout my life. I remember when I was 7 years old, our family went down to the shore for the very first time. We were walking down the boardwalk when two men approached us and immediately started screaming insults at my mother for wearing a headscarf. At the time, my parents did not know the english language perfectly, but they definitely knew what the word terrorist meant, especially when it was being screamed at us in such a demeaning manner. Instead of allowing this incident to affect the rest of our trip, my father politely told the men that we bring nothing but peace and asked them to leave us alone. As a child, I was so confused on what had happened. I was so appalled that people could be filled with such hate and easily attack strangers. My parents explained to me that we can not allow incidents like this to bring us down and we must learn from them instead. I learned that day that I must be strong and stand up for myself no matter what the situation is.

As we all go off to college next year, there are going to be times for all of us that are going to be difficult and distressing. There are going to be plenty of times that we will want nothing more than to come back to our home, Collingswood High School. My parents wanted nothing more than to go back to Syria. However, just like the Collingswood class of 2017, they realized they could not return to their homes. They had to go forward. As students in college, we must be brave and face every challenge with courage and with our heads held high. Even during our darkest times next year, we must remain strong. We all must remind ourselves that things will become overwhelming and the world is going to change. Tragedies happen and things definitely do not always go our way; it is all part of life. However, we can not allow the fear of what is yet to come and what has already happened define us. This was a powerful lesson that my parents taught me. No matter what happened, they did not allow their apprehension to consume their lives. Instead, they kept moving forward. They kept moving forward and never looked back. We must face every situation with courage and no matter what occurs, we can not allow the negativity to define our characters. My mother and father gave me the opportunity to strive to become my best because of their sacrifices, selflessness, courage, and hard work. I am beyond grateful for the lessons my parents have taught me. Without them, I would not be the brave woman I am today, and I certainly would not have the strength to stand up here while wearing this hijab, especially after fasting for 16 hours today. Mama, Baba, shookran la kilsha bil heyati, bhibkon kteer. Mom, Dad, I can not thank you enough for your love and support. I can never truly repay you for all that you have done for me.

Carolina Reyes


Once Upon a Lifetime

My mom has always been there for me and I learned this absolutely in a small town in the Dominican Republic. Fifteen years ago, I was playing with my mom in the comfort of my home, giggling with guileless joy as I slid face down on my couch, my mom catching me. Each time I slid down a little more until my face went under the couch: what I saw completely terrified me. Less than seven inches away from me loomed a gargantuan, ink-black tarantula. From my angle, I could see the tiny hairs raised among its dark geometrical legs, and could tell that the menacing spider was bigger than my tiny palms hoisting me up from the floor. I immediately yelped in fear and begged my mom to pull me up so I could escape the creature. Seeing my panicked expression, my mom quickly pulled me up, rescuing me from the hairy monster. No matter the circumstance, my mom has always been with me through every step of the way, to pull me up from whatever obstacle I face.

From an early age, she has taught me to never give up. She went back to high school at 33 years old and then did the impossible, attending college in a poverty stricken village as a single mother taking care me, a little child of only 4 years old. Without a babysitter to take care of me, my mom would take me to her evening college classes, heavy books on one arm and me on the other arm. Whenever I come home upset after a game or upset over a poor grade, she is always there to remind me to keep working hard. She reminds me that the impossible is simply a limit waiting to be broken and that every dream is achievable through hard work. Although it was difficult to work full time, take care of me, and attend college, she never gave up. Even while performing a simple task such as washing the dishes, she always reminds me that once I start something I should always finish it. With school clubs, AP courses, and sports, I sometimes get overwhelmed, but then I remember the woman holding the heavy books and her child, and I find the strength to keep going and give it my all. Every day she emphasizes that I should always put my best effort into everything I do no matter what it is because she has done the same throughout her life.

In 2010 my mom sacrificed everything to come to the United States leaving her job and lifestyle to ensure that I had every opportunity to succeed. She left behind any security she had to become an unemployed woman surrounded by a language and culture that was unfamiliar to her, besieged by a sea of unfamiliar faces; bewildered in America.  I was only 11 years old at the time, and completely unaware of how drastically my life would change. My mom saw past the hardships and struggles of being an immigrant in an alien country and saw that I could be successful here. The adjustment was hard to make, and there were many, many moments when I wanted to go back, but my mom always encouraged me to continue working hard in every situation, and to always love family unconditionally.

Growing up as a young child, my mom always showed me the importance of family and the virtues of helping others. She has shown me how to be kind, and to always be helpful to others. Even when we lived in a small town in the Dominican Republic, my mom and I often volunteered and participated in clothing drives for people that needed them, regardless of our own lack of money.

   My mom has shown me that even though there will always be obstacles to hinder us, the only thing that really stops us from succeeding is ourselves. She has shown me that the impossible is possible and that I should face the unknown without fear because if I work hard and do not give up, anything is possible. And just like she saved me from the frightening spider, I know that she will always be by my side to help me face the tarantulas of the world.

Alexis Arnold


I’d like to address not only my peers on this momentous day, but also our parents, guardians, family, and neighbors. Everyone at this ceremony is here because they are part of a thriving community, one which we celebrate today.

To my peers: I know that, as you decide where to go next, you’re somewhere on the spectrum between mostly secure in your plan, and crumbling with terror. It can be overwhelming to leave what you know. But my friends, family, and teachers would say, if you asked them, that I’m not very worried. There’s a good reason for that: I hope that by sharing this, you can find some peace in the change as well.

I always assume the best. Maybe I’m a little gullible, but I give others the benefit of the doubt and think that however things turn out, we’re better off that way. No matter how bad things get, I believe that I will be a better person in the end and along the way I’ll do what I can. I don’t let stress, resentment, or pessimism slow me down. Just look at the club I’ve led in my years here, the Gender Sexuality Alliance: when we hit a road block, we amp up our passion and find another way. We’ve done good things, contributing to this community, without being stymied by stigma or fear. We strive to help others and not let challenges hold us back. That’s the attitude you need to achieve not only success, but personal peace.

I know that change is scary, and it can be bad. But I promise every one of you sitting here very patiently awaiting the delivery of your diploma, that this change is not bad. You’re now past balancing appeasing others and exploring autonomy; you’re over the hurdle of the frantic scramble for college; you’re going to learn who you are and what you need, and that’s wonderful. I’ve seen enough of change to know that this change isn’t the kind that takes all you have. It’s doesn’t drain you – you’ll grow and learn. You won’t be stranded in the quote-unquote “real world” – you’ll have support. It’s not the daunting dive into the dark unknown that your anxiety says it is. I know that kind of change, and this is not it.

Even bad changes make you who you are. I am who I am because of the challenges I faced. My parents are better people for having fought their demons to have me in their lives. My friends who have lasted through years of instability are my best friends. No matter what happens next in your life, whether you go to college, join the military, find a job, or take time to recover from 12 straight years of learning, you will be fine. You’ll be better than that – you’ll be radiant.

That’s thanks to everyone in the risers. Every single person who is here to see us graduate is the reason we made it. We love you for everything you’ve given us. And on top of support at home and around the neighborhood, we got the best teachers and staff to help us along the way. Mr. Genna always stands in the hallways and greets us, willing to listen to any concerns and give his feedback… and somehow he’s also always in his office or visting classes, running things smoothly and checking in on us. He is everywhere at once and never overwhelmed.

Naturally, I can’t speak for every student’s experience, but the teachers I’ve had have been professional, sagacious, kind, patient, and forgiving. By the way, thanks to every teacher who forgave a zero, it meant a lot, I promise.

And you know that a school is high quality when you receive love and support from all the staff. The custodians, secretaries, technicians – there’s a contagious sense of congeniality and helpfulness around Collingswood High School. Mrs. Willis never makes fun when you need her to print your schedule halfway through the year because you forgot your combination. Mr. Newman is so friendly, he just might know every student individually. That’s the kind of atmosphere you’ll find invariably in this school.

That atmosphere, one of support, community, and belonging, is one that has given all of us a rich experience as well as a safe place to grow. Outside our bubble, things like turbulent politics, instances of violence, and periods of disquiet can make the world seem tiresome and distressing. But that’s the point of growing up: we leave what we’re comfortable with to face the quote-unquote “real world”. It is different, and maybe a little unstable, but it also holds great beauty and experiences we can’t yet imagine.

In short, to everyone here, I am immensely grateful. I had an unforgettable time here alongside classmates and teachers, in the pursuit of not only learning about the world, but also learning about my place in it.  Whether you’re graduating or attending in support, you’ve worked hard and put your heart and soul into what you do. We did it together, and nothing on this world can change that.

Emmah Evangelista


High school is hard.

We have to be here at 7:30 every morning, and we are expected to somehow learn and comprehend things that early in the morning.  Then of course there is an obscene amount of homework, tests that we definitely forgot about, assignments where the teacher says “You can’t do this all the night before,” and for some reason we take that as a challenge.  And on top of all our regular schoolwork, standardized test like to join the party too, and yes I am talking about the PARCC.  We all hated it, it happened, and I feel as though we need to acknowledge that pain before we can move on from it.  Then of course, junior and senior year hits and we had SATs to prep for and then colleges to apply to, and just when you think you’re done scholarships pop up to make you stressed out again.  To any underclassmen here, they lied, with everything else you have to do, senior year is not any easier than junior year.

High school is hard.

And despite this, this class remained resilient.  Which if you had Mrs. Rothwell freshmen year, you know is a great buzzword to throw into essays.  In all seriousness, we survived a lot in our four years, like Hurricane Sandy.  Or, this election season, the first of which many of us could vote in and threatened to tear the very fabric of our community apart.  We even survived that weird time everyone got sick sophomore year, so many of us got sick that Mr. Genna said if you were absent these two days they just don’t count.  We made the news for that.  It was so bad, people called it ‘Cebola’.  We went to school through that.  And still, even through all of stranger things that have happened, we came, determined to succeed.  


High school is hard.

We can all admit that.  There were plenty of difficult moments in the past four years, but there were some pretty amazing ones too.  We’ve been to Spain, France, and Germany.  We sang at Carnegie Hall, we became slam poetry state champions, we became the only co-ed swim team to make playoffs, we won districts in wrestling for the fifth time in a row.  We were the ones who taped Mr. Swern to the wall, we started the Social Justice Club, we changed the dress code.  We won Powder Puff- twice, we won spirit week- twice, we tied (beat) the staff in Reindeer Games.  We helped bring gender neutral bathrooms to our school, we started clubs and service projects, we made this school feel safer and more inclusive. We made this school a little easier to navigate for those behind us.  We have done incredible things while at this school, and I am sure we will do incredible things in our future.  And that future is exciting, but it’s also scary. Because if high school was this hard, then what the heck is the rest of life going to be like.  That wasn’t a rhetorical question, if you’ve got the answers, please, let us know, we’re going to need it.

High school is hard enough, so I can’t imagine what college must be like. Despite this, despite how overwhelming high school sometimes felt, I can’t help but be grateful.  I am a nervous wreck about my future, but I feel prepared to greet it, and I’m sure many of my classmates could say the same.  Our high school challenged us, forced us to be better.  Our teachers taught us to see who we wanted to be, and then be more.  When we were avoiding the very ideas of SATs and scholarships, Mrs. Wister popped up in our classrooms, on the announcements, on Remind, and refused to let us sell ourselves short.  She, like many of the other faculty at this school refused to let us overlook our potential.  Additionally, the people that sit in front of you today ready to graduate, made this school better.  They changed this school, we changed this school, and I think we leave behind a legacy that is fairly impressive.  You have all have challenged me, have forced me to be better.  Not just the teachers and administrators and faculty, but my peers as well.  You, as a class, have made me comfortable here, and it makes it that much harder to leave.  So although high school was hard, and I complained as much as anyone, you have made it fun. So, thank you to my classmates for giving me an experience I will remember fondly. I hope you can say the same. Good luck in whatever you do, I’m sure you will find your brilliance, just like you did here. So congratulations Class of 2017, the hard part of high school is finally over.




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