The Daily News is celebrating New York City public high school seniors graduating during the coronavirus pandemic with a special edition on June 28 featuring valedictorian speeches from across the five boroughs.
Hello Class of 2020, friends and family, faculty and staff, advisors and mentors, and all guests who have made it here today to celebrate this exciting occasion.
My name is Lucy and I am honored to be virtually here with you today. Before I begin I wanted to mention that I am a French immigrant. I was born and raised in Paris and moved to New York when I was thirteen years old.
As an immigrant from France, I have gotten a lot of questions from my peers about my country, and I thought I could start by answering some of them here:
Yes, we actually do play badminton in France.
Yes, we do have universal healthcare, not to brag or anything.
And, yes we are also obsessed with High School Musical, and Gossip Girl (thank you to Agne’s mom). And, while my high school experience in the U.S. may not have had as much singing as High School Musical or as much glamour as Gossip Girl, I think we can all agree that I look a lot like Zac Efron at his graduation right now.
After five years in the United States, I have also answered a lot of my own questions about America.
My ideas of American culture turned out to be completely wrong and full of stereotypes. It turns out that America wasn’t just full of McDonald’s and guns. There wasn’t just one American culture. There were so many.
I remember when I first took a walk through New York. I ended in Chinatown and a couple of minutes later I was in Little Italy. This was quite confusing for someone who was used to buildings that looked the same, everyone wearing stripes, and all my classmates speaking only French. It seemed as though in New York immigrants were able to truly integrate their culture into society, while in France, assimilation was preferred. There, you either had to adopt the ways of the French culture or remain a foreigner in the eyes of others. This freedom of integration is what makes New York so much richer in culture.
As I spent more and more time in America, I realized that while there may be a lot of diversity, that still doesn’t mean there is a lot of equality. As a white woman in America, I was learning how few rights some citizens had. As an immigrant, I may lack healthcare, I may lack the right to vote this November and I may fear that I will be forced to move back to France. But, I have never feared for my life as my Black peers have. It made me wonder: Why is it that as a white immigrant who has moved here only five years ago, I feel safer than my peers who are Black and have lived in America for generations? Why is it that when I walk down the street I get treated with respect, while my Black peers and peers of color who have always called America home do not?
I did not realize all of this alone or right away. It has been my friends, classmates, teammates, advisors and teachers at Millennium Brooklyn that have helped me learn and understand.
Five years ago, I was walking down the street and read a sign that said, “All Lives Matter.” My initial reaction was to praise those people who I thought were advocating for equality for all. It made sense in my head, yet, it wasn’t until someone called me out at school that I learned that actually, all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. Just like I had to learn a new language, I also had to learn a new culture and a new kind of racism. And it is my peers who have helped me understand my privilege and the fact that Black lives matter should not be, and is not, up for debate. I couldn’t be more grateful for having peers who were willing to challenge and teach me: Thank you.
It was also at Millennium Brooklyn that I saw, for the first time, students, teachers, advisors and coaches who created classrooms and club communities that valued all students. Whether it was during our advisor check-ins, or hyping up teammates at a track meet, I always felt that I had a place and a voice within these communities. This was also true inside of the classroom. As Mr. Kodila and Mr. Pontillo pointed out, “School is merely a simulation of the outside world.” Once we left the classroom, we stopped trading candy and our one mic rule no longer applied. In the outside world, voices seemed to be missing and were not integrated into the conversation. If it wasn’t for the open space created by my teachers, advisors and coaches where every voice mattered, I wouldn’t have realized how many voices were and still are missing in the real world. Thank you.
I have experienced my own share of challenges as an immigrant — but the most important lesson I have learned over the past five years is how to use my voice to empower others. Over the past four years, we have all created a community together at MBHS, in our classrooms, on our teams, our clubs and in our advisories. I am proud to say that I have learned so much more in the past four years about the world than I had in my thirteen years living in Paris. I am proud to say that I am part of the Class of 2020. I am proud to say that I am part of a community that doesn’t let injustices slide through the cracks.
Of course, Millennium Brooklyn is not a perfect place. We still have a lot of room to grow. Many have stayed silent when it was critical for their voice to be heard. Consequently, I would like to dedicate this speech to my advisor, Ms. Middleton, and every other teacher, faculty member and student that chose not to be silent.
Change starts within our community — change starts with us. We now have to leave our MBHS simulation and we will all find ourselves in new communities. Let us not forget the power that we have when we let our voices be heard, let us not forget to integrate every voice in the conversation. We wouldn’t be who we are today without learning from and through each other.
Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2020!