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Graduation 2017: Valedictorian and Salutatorian Speeches
Graduation 2017: Valedictorian and Salutatorian Speeches

Read excerpts of the speeches given by Valedictorian Danielle Annette Cruz and Salutatorian Ann Frances Gehan at the Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2017 on May 28, 2017.

These excerpts will also appear in The Texas Catholic. View photo album.

Excerpts from Danielle Annette Cruz's Valedictory Address

If you've ever sat next to me in a social studies class or just happened to hear me crushing my (Robert F. Kennedy) impression with a flawless Boston accent in Haggar, you'll know he's my idol. A reformed defender of African Americans, Mexican Americans, and the poor, Bobby was an advocate for the neglected. He envisioned a world of unity during a time of division, and he was a dreamer.

And when I think back on the character and charisma of the Class of 2017 over the past four years, one of his quotes comes to mind (don't worry I'll spare you the Boston accent): "Some people see things the way they are and say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'" To me, "Why not?" sums up the very essence of our class.

We do the things we love for no other reason than because we love them — no matter how ridiculous or illogical they may seem. Despite what others might define as a worthwhile aim or noble cause, I challenge our class to never stop dreaming what could be, trailblazing with conviction, questioning why not.

As RFK pointed out, it is through no virtues or accomplishments of our own that we were blessed enough to be born under possibly some of the most comfortable conditions with sisters who so unhesitatingly pause in their own struggles to guide you through yours and with teachers who so willingly stay after school until 5:00 p.m. to discuss various moral complexities beyond any lesson plans. We are and were fortunate enough to receive an education that taught us not just to memorize, but to learn. Not just to settle, but to understand. Not just to volunteer, but to serve. And not just to care, but to love.

It is because of this fortune that we are obligated to go beyond just "following our dreams" and put our dreams to good use — to realize our boundless imagination and care for humanity as one and the same, each serving the other. "There is no basic inconsistency," RFK once said, "between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems." In more "Class of 2017" terms: embracing the weirdness in themes like Seaniors did not inherently contradict our goals of winning spirit during Intramurals; our idealism did not contradict our realism. It was the very weirdness of our class that enhanced our endeavors.

Let's aim to carry on this purposeful originality wherever we go and whatever we pursue, even when others don't. It is by redefining convention that we become the catalysts of change towards empowered character and improved society.

Excerpts from Ann Frances Gehan's Salutatory Address

Being the social-media obsessed millennial that I am, the first time I grasped how special the Class of 2017 was, I hate to say it, because of a tweet. When a picture of 192 girls wearing banana suits began amassing near-viral amounts of retweets during Intramurals our sophomore year, I knew we were special.

Even though our burgeoning internet fame was impressive, that wasn't what stuck out to me. It was the unity and confidence we boldly displayed. We had been told countless times Bananas just wouldn't work. We didn't care what the precedent was or what other classes had done before us. All we knew was that we would be successful no matter what we did, as long as we did it together. The banana suits were not just a commitment to the color yellow — they were a way for us to color outside the lines, push the envelope, and most importantly, be brave.

This is one of the most important lessons we have learned at Ursuline — how to be unapologetically, confidently ourselves. ... Our class is characterized by its relentless curiosity, creativity, and conviction. Ursuline has given us the confidence to boldly pursue our passions and has shown us ways to turn those passions into meaningful action.

We have collected thousands (and I mean thousands) of cans of food, sent computers to girls in Afghanistan, formed friendships with the elderly, and promoted STEM education in public schools, but no matter what we did, one thread was always constant — our genuine kindness and desire to make a difference. Whatever challenges come our way next year and beyond, I know we will be able to approach them with nothing but the love, joy, and desire for justice we have learned here.

I want to leave you with one final thought that encapsulates the Ursuline experience for me. As part of our study of the female voice in English class sophomore year, I was introduced to Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer and feminist whose words opened my eyes to the potential of an empowered young woman, and I'd like to leave you with a few words of hers:

"We cannot always bend the world into the shapes we want, but we can try, we can make a concerted and real and true effort ... always just try. Because you never know."

We don't know exactly what lies ahead of us outside of the double white doors, but we go forward with the confidence that has been instilled in us, knowing that we have been given the greatest gift possible — the skills and courage to try.

Class of 2017, you have the most gorgeous, caring hearts I know, and are filled with more potential than you realize. I will miss your unconditional love and sisterhood so much next year.