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High School

The Commencement Speech You Never Got, But Definitely Needed

"Don’t stop believin’. Get this party started."

At my home in Michigan, my parents and I love to binge on reruns of Modern Family. There’s one episode where Alex is planning her boring valedictorian speech and her older sister, Haley, basically, advises her to just string a couple of song lyrics together and move on to the next part of her life. So, Alex’s speech ends up being, “Don’t stop believin’. Let’s get this party started.” And the crowd goes wild.

It occurred to me: Class of 2024, some of you missed the dreadful yet wonderful experience of hot auditoriums, hard folding chairs and boring repetitive commencement speeches that is high school graduation. You didn’t have the official cut of your parents’ apron strings. No march across the stage of life. No grad party where you received hugs with pats on your back and well wishes of “You did it! You’re an adult.” This summer, you couldn’t stay up late, hanging with your friends, causing a little trouble around town. You may not have even been able to get a job to earn money that will give you freedom this year. It’s all part of an odd rite of passage that, in its absence, may be affecting you now. 

So, as a sophomore who is still fresh enough to remember, yet seasoned enough to have picked myself up off the floor a time or two, here is the very personal commencement speech that you all deserve: 

Honored guests Notre Dame First Years. Welcome to your first month on campus. 

Let’s get some housekeeping done first: 

  1. Cleanse your Pinterest-perfect mindset. Your first year will be NOTHING like what you expect. Thank goodness, because if you miss out on some of the grit, you will miss out on a lot of the growth. Melinda Gates said, “Lean into the suck.” It is so empowering to embrace and challenge the imperfect. This chaotic year, more than ever, lean in. Fairness is flawed. I mean, think about how many participation trophies you tossed in the garbage before packing to move.

  2. Your home zip code, whether the poorest in the state or the most affluent, no longer matters. Here, we all live under the dome and what you do here is what will change your future. Nothing is given. Everything is earned. This is YOUR new life to create.

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Now let’s level set expectations: 

For many first years, this past summer involved spending 24/7 with your parents. It’s really hard to go from those daily controls to moving hundreds of miles away where you know no one. It’s easy to lose yourself. Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Campus is absolutely filled with amazing opportunities that fall between both ends of the spectrum of good and bad choices. Knowing where you stand helps you to pick your social and academic opportunities and determine who you are at this moment, as well as who you want to grow to be. 

Finding yourself also involves finding others. In a perfect world, you are completely compatible with your roommate, you meet your new best friends during Welcome Week, and after graduation, you all vacation together and stand up in each other’s weddings.

As an only child, I craved this idea. Making friends was always hard for me. Luckily, on day two, this stranger from New York reached out and saved my head from a rogue volleyball. New best friend! Two more were quickly added, then a few more and our group was formed.

There is no time limit on finding yourself and others. As a freshman, I thought friendship circles were established and set, but that’s completely false. This year, our group has grown to include amazing new friends. Additionally, I joined two new clubs, opening up a whole new population of relationship possibilities. 

Speaking of relationships...don’t pressure yourself! This isn’t speed dating and you have more than three minutes to share what makes you tick. Not everybody meets their husband during Welcome Week.

Perhaps, best of all, chuck the labels. Whatever you were in high school (e.g. most popular, most invisible, biggest jock, or biggest geek and, above all, smartest), you are no more. You are one of thousands of amazing people that can change the world, in your own way. You are not an imposter. You are meant to be here. Don’t do this for your parents, for fame, for a title or for money. Your future is too good for living under the limits of labels.

A transitional deacon from my home parish once said, “Jesus writes stories with beautifully curved lines.” That’s life, isn’t it? 2020 is the year of curved lines. We all have our “stuff” to contend with. We tend to get so angry when the curves happen to us! We throw our arms up in the air and feel lost.  But, we don’t pay to go to an amusement park to ride a slow moving cart on a straight flat track. We pay to hang upside down, to climb to the top only to come sweeping down at a breakneck pace. We pay to throw our arms up in the air and have our breath taken away. We choose all of this. Buckle up!

Now it’s time. ND Class of 2024, don’t stop believin’. Let’s get this party started!

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Hallie Buckner

Notre Dame '23

Hi, I'm Hallie! I'm a current sophomore at the University of Notre Dame studying Biological Sciences and Anthropology. When I'm not in class or studying, I'm involved in a number of different activities across campus. Some of these include designing for the Dome yearbook, managing the social media of the Magnificat Choir, and attending meetings of the Compassionate Care in Medicine Club. I also love to rock climb, make friendship bracelets, and have extreme binge-watching sessions with my friends.
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