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Students selected to address audience at graduation

By Lily Jacobson

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This year’s graduation ceremony will not feature a keynote speaker, but seniors Andres Garcia, Anna McGuire, Alex Parsky and Mason Robinson will deliver speeches during graduation at DAR Constitution Hall June 5.

Members of the administration decided to forgo a keynote speaker because of timing issues in the past. Schools are given a two hour slot for the ceremony and in previous years, the addresses of keynote speakers caused the ceremony to exceed the time limit, assistant principal Jerome Easton said.

Many students are upset with this change, saying the keynote speech is a traditional part of graduation. Past keynote speakers range from Washington Post columnists to political leaders.

“I’ve been to the last two graduations as a part of the chorus and they had pretty important speakers at those,” senior Jonah Eisenberg said. “It’ll be a little weird to not have one this year and not be able to say ‘oh, so-and-so spoke at my graduation.’ ”

Others don’t care, saying the ceremony won’t be noticeably different without one.

“I’m not upset, and I don’t think it will impact the ceremony,” senior Emma Cohen-Dumani said. “I just think it’s an extra thing that could be helpful.”

Despite skepticism about the absence of a keynote speaker, English teacher and senior advisor Todd Michaels said the student speeches are so captivating and poignant that a keynote isn’t necessary.

A panel of teachers, administrators and senior class officers selected the student speakers after assessing three-minute speeches from 19 students.

“We want them to be confident in their delivery and make sure they offer a memorable speech,” senior class officer Annie Waye said. “We watch their pacing, eye contact, how they address the audience and ensure they are speaking with good inflection.”  

Garcia, who came to Whitman two years ago, initially hesitated to try out because he thought a lack of inside jokes and class memories in his speech would affect his chances. Garcia said he decided to audition because he has an important message for seniors.

“I discuss the difficulties of working and living together with people that are very different from you,” Garcia said. “I tell the audience that in the end, it is possible to overcome the challenges of being different.”

Like Garcia, Parsky was indecisive about his decision to audition.

“I had a lot of hesitation, Parsky said. “I didn’t know if I had anything really worthwhile to say to everybody in my class, or if I could write or speak well enough to do this.”

After procrastinating during the writing process, Parsky wrote his speech the day of auditions. He works better under pressure, he said.

His speech is about symbols in a graduation context. Parsky discusses the meanings symbols carry in a graduation ceremony, graduation caps and high school diplomas.

In contrast, McGuire decided months in advance to audition and had plenty of time to develop her ideas.

“The commitment to try out seemed very simple to me and it seemed like a cool opportunity,” she said. “Looking back on high school it will be cool to say that I was a graduation speaker.”

McGuire’s speech focuses on The Overachievers, a novel chronicling the experiences of Whitman students by New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Robbins (‘94). Her inspiration to do so came from the most frequently asked question in her college interviews: what her favorite book is and why.

“I read The Overachievers the summer before my freshman year,” McGuire said. “My speech talks about the expectations I had coming into Whitman and then reevaluating what it means to be an overachiever and a Whitman student as a senior four years later.”

Unlike McGuire, Robinson’s friends encouraged him to try out despite his difficulty with public speaking, he said.

“The whole thing is out of my comfort zone,” Robinson said. “I just really love having the opportunity to make people laugh and feel good about our high school career together.”

His speech recounts his high school experience through a mix of comedy, sentimentality and inside jokes. His goal is to connect with every student in the senior class.

“It is a reflection through our years of high school,” Robinson said. “This grade has had a lot of interesting experiences and stories to tell, so I just tried to capitalize on that.”

Even with no keynote speaker, many students and staff expressed their excitement for the ceremony.

“Without a keynote speaker, students will have more of chance to get up there,” Michaels said. “I have no doubt that it’s going to be another great year.”



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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School
Students selected to address audience at graduation