Basalt High valedictorian’s speech: Countdown to the future
Mari Elliott shares gratitude, advice in graduation speech
Basalt High School Valedictorian
When I first began counting down to graduation, there were 786 days left. I started a timer on my phone about halfway through my sophomore year, after a particularly frustrating day. This anxiousness to leave BHS was a product of stress and all the new challenges which you find yourself facing during your teenage years.
However, as I saw the timer countdown from 786, to 500, to 100, to 0, the pace seemed to steadily increase. Of course, I lost track of all sense of time during quarantine (as so many of us did), but the past six months especially have gone flying by. And now, as I stand here looking out at the sea of purple polyester, I have a hard time believing that my days at this school have come to an end.
First, I would like to thank all of my fellow classmates for making the past 786 days so memorable. Our school and community is a unique one, and I do believe my life would be less rich had I not experienced the thrill of being in the homecoming “hunger games”, listened to Huntsman’s many, many life-rants, served fried chicken dinners in Lions Park, and welcomed in the first day of school with breakfast at the same local diner for twelve years. I have come to appreciate the connectedness and safety of a small town, and I am blessed to have grown up in this valley, even with its lack of malls.
I would next like to thank my grandparents, both those who are related to me and the ones who chose to take me in as family. Dwight and Nancy Maurin, Gingie Bair, John and Teresa Nieslanik, and Janice and Leroy Duroux: I am endlessly grateful for all your support. You unfailingly attended every birthday, holiday, and special occasion which you were able to, and I never felt as though I was missing out on cookies or support. Bev and Gordon Elliott, Gilbert Bernal, and Floy Vanbuskirk: my grandparents who do share a family tree with me, thank you for the wealth of kindness and inspiration which you have provided me with over the years; I hope I have made you proud and that I continue to. To my Aunt Lori and Uncle John, I appreciate your open door policy and all the weekends you let me escape away to your home. You are both kind and honest people without whom I would not have excelled nearly as much. To my brother Dane, thanks for talking me down off the cliff several times over the past four years, because I can get myself quite worked up when I want to.
Lastly, my greatest debt of gratitude is owed to my parents. Thank you, Dad, for constantly encouraging me to learn. You never allowed me to look at any academic challenge as anything less than an opportunity for growth, even when I only viewed it as an ominous deadline. From pop culture references — which you were shockingly up to date on — to more sophisticated topics, some of my favorite conversations throughout high school were the ones I shared with you.
And finally, I would like to thank my mother. As we neared graduation she told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, that she just wanted me to mention in my speech that she fed me. So here I am, confirming that throughout high school, she kept me fed. She, of course, was referencing literal food, which is fair to mention since she is a fantastic cook.
However, I don’t think she realized that when she said this, I thought of a far more substantial kind of food. My mother kept my brain fed with an abundance of books and stories. She fostered a love of reading in me by sharing the novels that she had come to adore and by letting me tag along on her trips to the library. I thoroughly appreciated the joy of reading when I was younger, and I hope to reconnect with that joy again.
It is truly a surreal feeling to be up here right now, trying to stare into my future knowing there isn’t any possible way to see what is coming next. But I’m excited, and I hope you all are too. I am angry at some of you today, though. I would like it to be made clear that I am not the sentimental type. As a whole, I have had a fairly c’est la vie attitude about moving on from this place, but now I eat my words. I am taken aback by how connected I have become to my fellow classmates over the course of our last year. I am especially mad at those of you who I held closest throughout high school, because it is your fault that in addition to being excited for the next chapter, I am quite sad. I am truly going to miss some of the incredible friends I have made when we all go our separate ways this fall, looking at you Hannah, and I will especially miss tricking my teachers into thinking Miles and I are related.
Now, compared to most of the audience members with us today, I have very little life experience. However, I do have a message I would like to send out as I have been given the platform to do so. Class of 2021, if you are to lose to anyone in this life, let it not be to yourself. I’m sure as we all grow and make new acquaintances we shall face some formidable opponents, but this is all the more reason to not help your competition. I wish that when any of us lose or experience failure over the next four years, it is because whoever or whatever we lost to was truly impressive and not a result of self-sabotage. If you can fight and knock yourself down day after day, you most certainly can turn your efforts around and use them against something else. Unfortunately, self-deprecation comes easy and self-love is often comparable to getting an 100% in Ms. Collins’ class (very hard if possible to attain). Regardless, I hope all my fellow classmates reach for that metaphorical A.
As my time spent up here comes to a close, I want to leave you all with a quote from Gilmore Girls, because, well, how could I not? I believe this quote applies to both our experience at BHS and the experiences we are all sure to have wherever we are headed next:
“This place had a long history before us, has a long future after us. I keep thinking it’s a part of our lives but, really, it’s the reverse. For a little while… it’s like we’re a part of its life.” Basalt “Union” High School, as it was known back then, was established in either 1895 or 1901 (the history is a little fuzzy about this), making our four years spent here only a small chunk of BHS’s history either way. But I would venture a guess that not every class experienced a remodel, a fire, and a pandemic during their time here, so I think it’s fair to say we were an interesting chapter in this institution’s life. Thank you, and congratulations class of 2021!
Mari Elliott is the Class of 2021 valedictorian at Basalt High School.
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