Thank you … to Superintendent Keenan, Principal Reina, the Greater Egg Board of Education members, Oakcrest administrators, faculty, staff, parents, friends and the Class of 2018...thank you for this opportunity.

Apparently some valedictorians take days to calculate every detail of their speeches until they get it perfect. I’m not perfect, so I knew enough not strive for perfection in this speech. But I do want to use this opportunity to get through my message.

I also knew enough to remember to thank my parents and family...oh wait...thank you to my parents and family.

As our forefathers said, some truths are self evident. Injustice, deceit, hate hopelessness, embarrassment do exist, and all of us have encountered most of these. Reality is sometimes sad, but I want to tell you something real.

Class of 2018, this is your address.

It is hard to summarize what the past 4 years have meant to me. Despite the 6,000 hours we’ve spent together, the only collective statement I can make about you is that you are all different. Oakcrest hasn’t taught us everything we need, but it has given us something more valuable -- a new perspective.

I still remember when I walked into this school for the first time. Since then, I have learned that the world is not as complex as I thought. Knowledge is not as extensive or elusive as it first seemed. The people I have looked up to are just like me. We are all the same. Only our experiences set us apart. The harder I worked here, the more sense I was able to make from all the randomness.

But the most important lessons I learned were about connections. I learned that they always exist, even if we don’t see them. I am connected to all of you. I NOW know that my message is bigger than myself, and I am willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get my voice heard in this world.

I do not stand up here because I am better than any of my classmates. In fact, my friends and family know that I am probably the MOST indecisive person in our graduating class. I do not stand up here because I am smarter than any of my classmates. I am just a jack of all trades. But I have been lucky … to be friends with so many brilliant people. I stand up here because of the power of just one word: expectations.

Expectations are meaningless on their own - BUT in them, we find the motivation to accomplish difficult tasks. Expectations guide us. They make us or break us. But expectations have to come from OUR hearts. We must never allow other people’s perceptions to rule over us.

Too often, we have find ourselves placed inside a mold. A mold created by other people’s prejudices and judgments. We’ve been put into that mold for so long, that we start to take its shape. But we cannot allow prejudice to mold us.

You see this medal around my neck. You see my skin color. You hear my accent. Are you surprised that this is your valedictorian? Don’t be. I have not let other people’s prejudice stop me. You hear my accent, yes, but you will also HEAR MY WORDS. The old mold must be broken. AND that must be the mission of our graduating class. Our legacy.

So, Class of 2018, when other people’s expectations send you into a valley, where you feel judged and weak, that is when you must focus on the peaks. Get back up. Find your strength. Honor your own expectations. Never allow yourself to sink below your own standards. This is your time to realize your potential. Defy the mold.

As I say goodbye for one last time, I am left with nothing but an ah-MAL-gum of memories and the understanding that you have given me. You are not traditional, you are the beginning to a new era. You are revolution by evolution.

All that is left to say is thank you Oakcrest High School, and thank you Class of 2018. We are now free to change the world.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.