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The Graduation Speech I Wasn’t Allowed to Deliver

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Senior year was rough for many reasons and I constantly looked forward to graduation, which was one of the most important days of my life. When I found out that I was salutatorian of my senior class, I was excited for many reasons, especially knowing that I was going to speak at graduation.

But then, my school informed me I wasn’t going to deliver the speech I wrote. Instead, I was handed a salutatorian speech they wrote. I had to speak about birches and oak trees in an analogy about how to stay strong and bend when appropriate. Thankfully, I was able to add two lines of my own at the end, but no one knew that. They thought I wrote the speech I delivered.

In the end, I was somewhat hurt because I wasn’t able to express many of my own thoughts. I let it go until I remembered I am a part of VOX, a 23-year-old nonprofit dedicated to celebrating uncensored teen voices. Finally, I can publish the speech I originally wanted to give. Teens will probably be able to relate to this speech more than the one about birches and oak trees, like the one I had to present at graduation.

As I prepared my speech for publication with my editor (a professional journalist who also works at VOX), I knew the importance of presenting both sides of this story. So I reached out to my school about giving me their perspective to go along with my story, explaining from their perspective why everything happened with graduation speeches. Even though no one responded to my email, I did visit my school, where I spoke with my assistant principal about the matter.

Once we spoke, I felt relieved after he reassured me that he would make sure students have an active part in the speech writing process from now on because no one wants to have to go through what I went through. It was also nice to have someone understand where I was coming from, and I could tell that he empathized with me.

So, enjoy my bangin’ speech, and always remember that you have a voice. Let it be heard.

Salutations classmates, teachers, family and friends:

My name is Alexes Harris, and I am a proud recipient of the Posse Scholarship and will be a part of the inaugural Posse class to attend George Washington University this fall in our nation’s capital. This speech is not just about me as the salutatorian of LSJ but about us as a senior class. We all started at the bottom in 9th grade and now the whole team’s here. It’s time to celebrate all summer ‘16. We had to work, work, work, work, work to get to this moment and I am here on behalf of my class to say hello, it’s me. After all these years, just think about how far we’ve come as a class. As individuals.

We’ve failed, cried and had make up and breakups that we thought we’d never get over. We’ve experienced our first and last football games, basketball games, lit and not-so-lit proms, and we’ll never forget that casket we made for our rivals, Carver High, at our freshman year football game — but buried ourselves in it when we lost to them 67 to 0.

Our time here has been no walk in the park. We’ve faced many challenges, socially and academically. But we overcame them. Every student has experienced their own fair share of high school woes, especially when we got to high school and realized it was nothing like “High School Musical.” Things have never gone exactly how we planned them, but that’s what’s made these past four years of our lives memorable. We can honestly look back and say, “I weathered the storm and I made it.”AlexesGrad2

Family, all of us up here are destined for greatness, so sit back, relax and don’t worry too much. Even if we may ask you for a couple bucks here or there. But hey, what’s a journey without a little contribution? The journey teaches you a lot about your destination. Each of those obstacles and each success made us who we are today. We’re stronger, better and ready to conquer that “doggy world” out there. Watch us blow you away because these past four years were just the warm up. We’re just getting started.

We are continuously growing and leaving a mark for the classes coming behind us because they know they’ll never be like us.

So class, let’s not stop here — let’s go out and show out.

We are resilient. So, don your awards, medals and accomplishments with pride. And in the words of my senior year motivational speaker DJ Khaled, “We Da Best.”

*Figuratively drops mic.*

Alexes Harris was the salutatorian for her 2016 graduation class at South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice, and will be attending George Washington University as a member of the university’s inaugural group of Posse Scholars this fall. Even though she’ll be in D.C., she will continue to make sure that the remaining students at her alma mater have a voice.


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