Aspen High School co-valedictorian speech: Sarah Scharlin Ben-Hamoo

Sarah Scharlin Ben-Hamoo
Aspen High School Class of 2018 co-valedictorian
Aspen senior Sarah Scharlin Ben-Hamoo gives her valedictory address with her twin sister, Molly, Saturday for Aspen High School's graduation at the Benedict Music Tent.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

I hope my unrefined public-speaking skills don’t eclipse this moment, because admittedly, my goal was to be ranked third in an effort to avoid this responsibility of giving a speech at all costs.

But being the overachiever I am, I somehow overshot, only to find myself standing here today.

“Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”

The irony of my being up here is that I am charged with imparting some tremendous wisdom and insight, and yet the mere fact that I have achieved this honor is evidence that I spent much of the past four years at home studying while the rest of you lived your lives and gained actual wisdom.

In contrast to the knowledge you have acquired empirically, mine is purely theoretical, having lived vicariously through my favorite characters in books and movies.

Hence, being the super-nerd I am, I shall humbly relay to you the best advice I have to offer, which I have appropriated from literature and pop-culture.

In one of the most accurate and truthful portrayals of American high school life, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 12-year-old British wizard, Harry Potter expresses his fear to Professor Dumbledore that he might be connected to the insidious Voldemort.

Dumbledore reassures Harry by saying,

“it is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

More powerful than our birthright are our intentions and our actions. Studies show that grit and perseverance are far more accurate indicators of success than IQ.

We are all born with strengths and weaknesses, but it is how we choose to use them that determine the kinds of lives we create.

While this may seem daunting, it is liberating to know that we can achieve whatever we want to achieve with hard work.

Now, for The Breakfast Club, because I can’t talk about high school without John Hughes.

Although I love the iconic opening and closing voice overs, another valuable piece of advice comes from an off-handed comment delivered by the athlete in response to the princess belittling the basketcase.

He defends her by saying,

“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

In this scene, the athlete admits that he is weird, but he knows how to disguise his bizarre idiosyncrasies in order to fit in at school.

We all have qualities that make us different, and it is easy to want to hide those from the rest of the world so that we fit in with the norm.

However, the weirdest parts of us are the best parts.

They’re what make us quirky and inventive.

These are the parts that bring new ideas to the world.

Onto How I Met Your Mother.

In season 2, Marshall is upset after his fiance breaks up with him, so his friend Barney tells him:

“Whenever I’m sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead.”

I know this comes off as really shallow when Barney says it, but there is actually some good advice here.

While there is a time to be sad and feel the unavoidable hardships in life, dwelling on them can be just as damaging.

After the storm settles, it is our own responsibility to pick ourselves up, find the value in the struggle, move on, and be awesome.

Finally, anyone who knows me knows that it impossible for me to talk for four whole minutes without once referencing Hamilton.

So, my last piece of advice comes from the finale song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,”

In it, the ensemble asks,

“But when you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?”

This line is in direct reference to Elizabeth Hamilton’s decision to run an orphanage, but it applies to each of us.

The decisions we make factor into how we are remembered: whether it is as a person who is innovative, brave, and transformative, or someone who is indignant, cruel, or inconsequential.

The decisions we make today will impact what legacies we leave behind. We are writing our own stories, reshaping history.

Never in history have young people been more powerful.

Our intentions, our words, our actions finally mean something, and people are finally listening.

Right now, with every word we say, from quips to compliments, we are crafting the screenplay that is our lives.

Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2018!