By Dena Atallah
Good evening my Notre Dame family!! Your Excellency Bishop Bergie, Teachers, Staff, Students, and guests, specifically, the Atallah-Dief family, holding it down in the back corner over there. I am honoured to be representing Notre Dame’s class of 2017 as the valedictorian. I want to begin first by thanking everyone who put me here on this stage.
I think we would all like to thank our teachers, who taught us far beyond the curriculum, led by example, and supported us. To Mr. DeFazio, who exhibits the true spirit of Notre Dame and bleeds gold and blue and to Mrs. Quinn-Boyer, and Mr. Timmins, you made this high school experience one to remember.
I would also like to thank the support staff, the ladies in the office, and of course, our guidance counsellors for all helping us get to where we are this evening.
I also believe this class of 2017 would like to extend a huge thank you to our parents and families. You have been with us since day one, long before we all got licenses and jobs and started to make our own schedules.
A very special thank you to my family, you have always been there for me and I am so blessed to have you by my side.
A part of this recognition belongs, of course, to the graduating class. You have never failed to inspire and motivate me over the past four years. I would also like to mention my fellow nominees, Ehrin Turkovich, Katie Hallchurch, Mansi Patel, and Adam Maunsell. Mr. DeFazio said it best, that you are all valedictorians in his heart, and I couldn’t agree more.
Now, I’ll be honest, when I found out that I was the class valedictorian, I was so ecstatic that I cried. After I dried my tears, though, I couldn’t stop thinking, “what on earth am I going to say in that speech?” Naturally, I went to some of my friends. A few said, “I just want you to make me cry.” Another wanted me to make sure I congratulated Beyonce on her twins. Someone even thought that I should serenade the class by breaking out into Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you”. Fortunately, I will not be doing that.
After a lot of thought and advice, I realized that I must have been overthinking it, and decided to take the advice of Ms. Taraba, my “art mom” of four years, who told me not to worry, that I was sure to find the words. And so I’ve decided to just speak from the heart.
So, here goes.
Now that we’ve crossed the stage, I’d like to leave you with three thoughts.
If there is one word that I can use to describe this graduating class, it would be ‘unified’. Whether it was a sports event, a social climate event, Jazz Combo’s gig in St. Catharines, Irish Blitz, or the annual Musical, this class always showed up! No matter what you wanted to do, there was always a team of people who were there to cheer you on. When you leave this place, my only hope is that you meet the same sense of support, spirit and solidarity that you did at ND. There is no doubt that our world is lacking that right now.
If you can go on to university, college, and your everyday lives and reach out to strangers with the same compassion we’ve learned at Notre Dame, we can all make a difference. Author and Poet Rupi Kaur writes, “Most importantly, love like it’s the only thing you know how. Nothing even matters except love and human connection…How you’ve touched the people around you, and how much you gave them.”
If we can all leave here and spread this kind of love; because it is so much easier to love than to hate, and it is so much easier to be unified than to be divided, this class will do great things. We have learned this at ND through every faith-driven activity we participate in. School masses, the Pilgrimage, Multicultural Week, Harvest Kitchen, our food drives, and the list goes on. I believe that with attitudes like this – of solidarity and compassion – we can all work towards improving the lives of those around us, and in turn, we’ll be better people for it.
We would be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit that even though this is a celebratory occasion, it is quite bittersweet. I know many of us will miss Nick’s infamous questions, Carson’s knitting, Kim and Emily’s Snapchat harmonizing, Haris’ old spice whistle, and of course, Daniel’s famous ukulele serenades. Friendships fostered, obstacles overcome, and memories made – we have much to cherish! We will all miss this place.
And on that note – graduating Class of 2017 – let’s celebrate in the best way we can.
…When I say “We Are”, you say “ND”
(Address delivered Wednesday, June 28 at Notre Dame’s commencement, Welland Arena. Salutatorian was Ehrin Turkovich. The Class of 2017 had 278 graduates.)
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