Basalt valedictorian: Grads need to push boundaries, be themselves | AspenTimes.com
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Basalt valedictorian: Grads need to push boundaries, be themselves

Naomi Hennefeld
Jackie Daily Photography |

Editor’s note: Naomi Hennefeld is the valedictorian of the Basalt High School class of 2014. Following is text of the speech she delivered at the graduation ceremony. Hennefeld will attend California Polytechnic State University and major in environmental engineering.

It is an honor to be here, in Basalt, Colorado, part of this unimaginably expansive universe. At this instant, the Earth is revolving at 108,000 kilometers per hour around the sun. We are approximately 149 million kilometers away from the sun; and the sun is approximately 9.4 trillion kilometers, four light years, away from the next-closest star; and all of these things are relatively close compared to the rest of the universe. Wow, as if I didn’t feel small enough being 5-foot-2. Yet, by some phenomenon, we find ourselves here, in the close proximity of this seemingly static gym. Moments like these in life are unique, not just because we have to suffer through the heat of the day and redundancy of this ceremony but because we have been given this opportunity to escape from the chaos of our lives, if only for a few hours, to reflect on our endurance, commitment and growth over the past four years.



While we remain in the eye of the storm, I would like to thank each person in this room because every one of you has had an impact, no matter how indirect, on the lives of every graduate beside me. You have helped guide us in the right direction, and for this I am grateful. Friends, thank you for having been an outlet for our stress, a smile and laugh when we had one too many math problems. Teachers, thank you for having challenged us. You have brought out the best in each one of us, and we appreciate your dedication, especially through our senioritis. Families, thank you for your sturdy foundation. You are our biggest fans and best role models. Every day, we strive to emulate your courage, not just for putting up with a teenager but for succeeding thus far in life.

Most of all, I would like to thank Basalt’s class of 2014. Many of us have been in school together since kindergarten, and regardless of when you joined the Basalt family, each one of you has helped me become the person that I am today. Thank you for filling my memories with joy; from homecoming to prom to the Longhorn Stampede and ex-ed, you always know how to add an extra element of fun to school activities.




I am also humbled by the various successes of my classmates. Among the crowd beside me are two Evans scholars, one Daniels scholar and one Gates scholar, all four of whom have earned full-ride scholarships to college. One student is going to Wash U in St. Louis, which is among the top schools in the nation. As juniors, five students got a 5 on the AP calc test. Another student won the 3A golf state championship this year. Others were part of the Junior Gents Rugby team that won last year’s state championship and made it to the finals this year. These are only a few of our class’s many achievements. Our various successes have been the result of hard work and dedication throughout our time in Basalt. These accomplishments reflect on the integrity and hard work of not only the individuals in my class but also the community that has fostered these students.

One highlight of Basalt’s artistic accomplishments took place in March; the play “Children of Eden” was a divine production — pun intended. I was thoroughly impressed by the dedication everyone put into the show. I got to thinking the costumes were some of the simplest I had seen in a spring musical, but it was one of the most captivating in my four years here. I came to see the costumes as a metaphor for life. We all initially have the same, simple sheets of cloth. However, what we make of these costumes is up to us as individuals. Similar to how the actors in the play brought meaning to their plain costumes, we must all dedicate ourselves to bringing a unique vitality to our existence. You alone are responsible for giving your costume its significance. While we face this daunting task of fulfilling a meaningful life, it is comforting to know that we will always have the lessons learned in this building to guide us. Earlier this year, while my English class was reading “Hamlet,” my teacher asked our parents to write us a letter of advice as we prepared to leave high school. One piece of advice that my mother passed on to me was, “Things in life don’t have to be perfect — nothing in life is. Don’t be too hard on yourself if (or when) you make a mistake. Learn what you can from it, and move on.” My mom always knows the right thing to say, and I think we would all be wise if we were to learn from her. Although I stand before you because I have gotten “perfect” grades, I am far from perfect. We all are; imperfection is the basis of the mutation of DNA, which is why life exists as we know it. Mistakes are how we learn, grow, become ourselves. I think this lesson was the hardest but most important for me to learn. For much of high school I was preoccupied with going by the book and doing everything that was expected of me without flaw. But if we all were to do this — all followed the same script — we would all become the same characters. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries, wear your costume differently, be the character you want to become. Thank you, Mom, for this advice.

Friends and family, we are now before you in our graduation costumes that symbolize hard work, knowledge and growth. Soon, we will shed these costumes and witness how our time here has shaped our own unique character. Soon, we will have to re-enter the chaos of the dynamic world. Soon, it will be time for goodbye. Graduates, although I cannot promise that this goodbye will be temporary, I can promise that this goodbye will lead to another hello. As we enter the next act of our lives, we should always remember the love present in the memories of our time in Basalt, for this feeling will only make future hellos so much sweeter. Now is our time to face the chaotic world and make something of ourselves, all the while remembering that Basalt High School provided a strong foundation for our future success.


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