Valedictorian and Salutatorian Address Class of 2020

Although we were not at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and
although the graduates and their families came to The Mahler Center in small groups, there was
abundant joy and celebration as the Class of 2020 of Elizabeth Seton High School received their awards and diplomas, and of course turned their tassels to officially become Seton Alumnae.

Please read the inspiring speeches of the Valedictorian, Nora Sweeney
and the Salutatorian, Anjolaoluwa Akintoba:

Nora Sweeny, Valedictorian (Swarthmore College '24)

Hi, 2020. 

This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Three and a half months ago, we had the whole world in front of us, ready to finish high school, graduate at the Shrine, and move on to whatever would come next. For reasons completely out of our control, we ended up here, in July, uncertain about much of what is next to come. 

We’ve been through a lot together. Our collective unconscious carries scary clowns and stolen credit cards along with school shootings and the MeToo movement. We met two consecutive spirit week wins and a new auditorium with devastating hurricanes and increasing climate destruction. And of course, the long-awaited elevator was finished during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic so we never got to ride it. 

Suddenly, what was meant to be a cathartic final three months of high school was gone. No prom, no need for a white dress, no graduation, no signing yearbooks. None of the things we expected three and a half months ago. 

However, 2020, we are prophets of a future not our own. 

A prayer (often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero) talks of the responsibility of current generations to provide: 
“We plant seeds that one day will grow. 
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. … 
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs…. We are prophets of a future not our own. “

So, while I could reminisce more with you about our past four years, I want to talk about something else.

I want to tell you a story. We have to go back a few years, about six, to be exact. 

In 2014, we were twelve and thirteen. I don’t know how much you all remember about being a preteen, but I know I was obsessed with Taylor Swift and posing my rabbit for photoshoots. 

I had lots of hobbies in middle school. I was in the band and learning trumpet and also played on the soccer team. Others of you may have also been learning instruments or playing sports or doing art or reading or any of the various other things that come with the super fun time that is seventh grade. 

In this story, our main character is just like all of us. They play sports, specifically basketball and football, and do art, specifically pottery and crochet. They’re just like the rest of us, twelve years old and excited about life, planting the seeds Romero mentioned, planning for the future. 

However, unlike the rest of us who got to enjoy seventh grade, eighth grade, and all of high school, Tamir Rice was murdered.

On November 22nd, 2014, Tamir Rice was at a park in Cleveland, Ohio, with a toy gun. He was deemed suspicious by someone nearby and shot almost immediately by the two police officers who’d responded to the 911 call. The officer who shot him had already been deemed unfit for duty and emotionally unstable but was still sent out on calls for work. He was never indicted for his crime.  

Tamir Rice should be graduating this year, too. 

The world we enter as we finish high school is one plagued by systemic racism and ingrained inequality. Black Americans face disproportionate amounts of violence at the hands of police officers and the country we live in is waking up far too late. America has had the privilege of ignorance, but so many in our country and immediate community have not had such luxury of being unaware. 

I don’t like it when I’m told that it’s our generation that’s going to save the world. Barack Obama said in his 2020 commencement address, “if the world's going to get better, it’s going to be up to you”. It feels to me like a deflection of responsibility; an excuse for the inaction of previous generations. We were failed by those who have come before us, who have failed to confront and confess the oppressive structures that govern the nation. 

But, he’s right. 

Our class was raised alongside the internet, exposed to more concentrated information in 18 years than our parents may have in their lifetimes. We grew up fast and we continue to grow as we hold ourselves and our peers accountable. It is up to us. 

It’s up to us to recognize our privilege and take action, whether it be through protesting, signing petitions, donating, voting, or having hard conversations with our family members who remain “apolitical” in the face of violations of human rights. 

We’re part of a movement for change, a movement that’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s up to us to keep the momentum we’ve gathered to plant seeds of actual progress. We may not see the end of it (we are workers, not master builders), but we have fresh soil waiting for us. 

In only a few months, our routines change again. Many of us head off to college, while others will begin working. We pave our individual paths with many of the same stones– we are all becoming responsible for being more ethical than the society we were raised in. Thanks to our high school and the example set by our strong women leaders and teachers, we have the tools to do so. Whatever we do next, we continue to hope to continue to learn and have dialogue. We lay a foundation. 

We are prophets of a future not our own. 
Anjolaoluwa Akintoba, Salutatoria (University of Maryland '24)

Welcome parents, teachers, staff, family and friends to Elizabeth Seton High School’s
Class of 2020 graduation ceremony. My name is Anjola Akintoba and to the Class of 2020,
congratulations! We finally made it! To begin, I would like to ask the Class of 2020 to join me in
extending my gratitude to all of our teachers and staff for their influential role in our journey
these past four years.

Our senior year, envisioned to be the best year of high school, in short, did not go as any
of us could have imagined, considering the pandemic, the many lives lost, and the many other
challenges we are facing today. However, there is much to be said for the memories we were
able to create. In the spirit of tradition, our senior year began as we welcomed the freshman class
into a school we would soon refer to as our alma mater. The timid yet excited looks on the
freshmen’s faces were the same ones we wore as we were welcomed into the unrenovated
auditorium four years ago. As I look back on our four years since, I see our growth, I see our
strength, and I see our resilience. Our four years at Seton have been filled with never-ending
laughs and never-ending tears. The memories we made this year alone are worth a lifetime. We
strengthened our friendships on our senior retreat, we came together to cheer on our soccer team
during playoffs, and we showed our school spirit during pep rallies and by winning spirit week
as only we could. We dove head first into our college application process and even got a taste of
the real world through many of our pre-career courses. But beyond sports, academics and pep
rallies, during this year we strengthened bonds with each other that will survive beyond the
classrooms that they were created in. Even though we have been through a lot this year we were
truly able to capitalize on the time we had together.

As we celebrate our graduation today, we are closing one chapter of our life and opening
another. Looking ahead to life after high school, we must always remember to take the lessons
we were taught with us. Seton has instilled in us the importance of integrity, hard work, and
service to those in need. These values are not only on display throughout the hallways and
classrooms but are now inside each one of us. So remember it's not on you it's in you and what’s
in you can never be taken away. If nothing else, this year has taught us that even in the midst of
adversity and hardship there can be growth. I would be remiss if I didn’t leave you all with some
words of wisdom, because as Nipsey Hustle put it, “The highest human act is to inspire.” So,
Class of 2020, my advice to all of you is, as you face new challenges, embrace your times of
hardship. Many people tend to focus more on their destination than on their journey. But it is in
the process of reaching your goals that you learn the most about yourself. You unearth qualities
that you didn’t even know you had and you discover what you are truly capable of. Use this year
as a reminder that in the pursuit of your goals and dreams, things might not always go as
planned. And it is your response to these setbacks that truly defines you. It is the journey that
builds character.

Throughout this year alone we have shown that we are stronger than any obstacle set
before us. We have navigated through such an unprecedented time that we are now prepared for
anything life can throw at us. Thank you all and remember, in the words of Denzel Washington,
“If you pray for rain you have to deal with the mud, too.”