My Graduation 2020 Speech to my 5th-graders.

We just had a virtual graduation for our 5th-graders which was emotional, bittersweet, and left me teary-eyed throughout. While this is not the graduation we wanted, we still wanted our students to get the most out of it, and so I spent 3 days writing and pre-recorded the following speech for graduation. Hope you enjoy.

Ms. Tan’s Graduation Speech, June 23rd, 2020

Good morning everyone. I’m Ms. Tan, and I have been a fifth-grade teacher at our school for the past 4 years. I am so honored to be your Master of Ceremonies for the graduating class of 2020!

We teachers and staff here have seen you, the Class of 2020, grow into thoughtful, responsible, considerate and caring leaders. We are so proud of your accomplishments over the past 6 years, where you grew stronger not just in your ability to read, write, and do math, but in analyzing the world around you, in asking questions, and in wondering why the world is the way it is. You have learned and applied everything you learned about the 8 Habits* and become leaders not only in your classrooms but in your homes, community, and beyond.

This is not just a day to celebrate our graduating class but also to celebrate the parents, family and friends who have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to make sure their children succeeded. Parents, today is a culmination of your children’s successes, failures, losses and triumphs. Today is a day we celebrate the end of your child’s journey in elementary school.

Today, your graduation day, students, has been something you have been dreaming of for six years, and something I dreamed of as well. Like many of you students, I come from a family of immigrants, where my parents speak a language other than English. There was pressure on me to learn English quickly so I could translate mail, help my parents go to appointments, and to succeed here in America.

Like all of you, I had teachers and family that believed in me, pushed me to work hard, and helped me find my voice. Because of everyone who supported me, and because of my own hard work, I was one of the first in my family to graduate from high school, then college, then a masters degree in teaching. And that is why I became a teacher- so I could help students like you also feel confident and strong enough to find your voices and succeed.

I eagerly volunteered this year to be your Master of Ceremonies. But I honestly struggled writing this speech. There is no sugarcoating that this is not how we wanted to celebrate this graduation day. We all have been waiting for this day, to see you in your dress-up clothes and caps and gowns, and celebrate in-person. We were ready for hugs, tears, laughter, and so much fun at the end of the year.

And then, so suddenly, we went from our classrooms, walking the hallways back-to-back up in two lines, sharing the same pencils and hall passes, sitting knee-to-knee in the cafeteria and in the auditorium, to learning from our homes. We once took things, like going outside and breathing fresh air in without a face mask, or not washing our hands, gross, for granted. We took going into school for granted. We all did.

I want to make clear that we are in a historic moment right now. We are in a moment in history now that students like you will study in 50 years’ time. This historic pandemic has hit the entire world and has changed everything. It has changed the ways we have been able to be with each other. It has changed the way we work. It has shown us how society works, and what doesn’t work. It changed how we were able to go to school, and how we’re able to do this graduation this year.

It is okay to be scared, confused, angry, and overwhelmed by all of this. And, you are not alone. As much as the adults in your life have tried to remain strong, we are also feeling all of those feelings.

And yet you, students, made it through these past few months to finish the 5th grade. As we very quickly and suddenly changed as a society, you students used everything you learned at our school to make it to this graduation day.

We switched quickly from seeing each other in person to seeing each other only on video chats. We got used to frozen screens and the weird sounds of our voices when our WiFi signal went bad. We learned to mute and unmute ourselves quickly if something in the background was loud.

Parents, family members, thank you for getting our children to this graduation day. Since we moved to remote learning, you’ve taken on a much larger role of teaching our children, whether it’s working as essential workers and making money for your families, then coming home to help your child complete assignments, or accepting our texts, phone calls and emails.

You all have been so gracious as we navigated this remote learning together. Thank you for being patient as we learned how to use these different platforms, figured out what times of day and what worked best for you and your children, and made sure all our students could get through this.

And students, so many of you have been doing so much work not just as students, but as older brothers and sisters who figured out Google Classroom not only for yourselves but for your siblings, helping your parents and relatives with Google Classroom or some email we sent you, or trying again and again to play a video or complete online assignments and math forms. You students worked so hard and worked through so much to believe in yourselves, built up ways to be sad and mad and finding hope all at the same time when things were hard.

Thank you to all the teachers and staff who made sure all of our students got to this Graduation day. We teachers and schools staff got so much closer to our students and families: now we text and call back and forth like we never would have before. We have laughed together at the small moments and cried together at the hard moments.

We know nothing can replace being with each other in person. We all miss being in school- and that’s something, kids, I KNOW you never thought you would say! We all miss each other and hope to see each other in person when it’s safe to do so. But the relationship, the love, the care, the hope we give one another, all of that has remained strong, maybe even stronger, and will still be there once you leave our school. That is how we got through this tough time: together.

But some of us have had terrible losses. Our community has lost grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, siblings, children, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. I want to acknowledge all of the family members and friends, those who helped our students get where they are today but who are not here today to celebrate with us. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge those we have lost. Thank you.

It is hard to stay the course. But the end in mind is making sure everyone is safe. We remember that everything we are doing is for our community. Everything we do in the future is for our community. We continue to work as a team and fight to make sure other lives are not taken too soon. Now and later, we know it’s always our duty to do what’s right.  It takes all of us to do the right thing, to put first things first, but also stand up when something is wrong.

This time is hard, but this is just the beginning for you all on your journey towards becoming independent, thoughtful, critical citizens of this earth. This is the beginning of you learning to sharpen the saw, utilizing all the strength, courage, and willpower you have, all the struggles you persevered through, to pass your next tests. I don’t just mean math tests, but tests of your endurance and your ability to keep going, especially when things get hard. Take care of yourselves- whatever you’re feeling is okay, and you have people to support you through those tough times. And continue to believe in yourselves.

This is not the end of the community you have with us. Those hugs, tears, laughter, we aren’t able to have them in person now but we can have them later. You get to have them now with your family members and community. As we learned through all this, things don’t just stop when a scary infectious disease comes. If this time has taught us anything, it is to rely on the community we have. Know that we are here. You are all loved and supported, always. You have our contact information now- use it!

Keep doing the right thing and speaking up when there is wrong in the world. As Mohandas Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in this world.” I hope you all find your voice and go make this world a better place for everyone. Thank you.

*Note: we are a “Leader in Me” Lighthouse school, meaning we implement the 8 Habits framework to help students learn how to work independently and interdependently.

Published by Annie Tan

Annie Tan: Teacher, Activist, Storyteller.

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