"Twenty Miles Away, but a World Apart" by Pat Toomey, student speaker

Good morning, everyone.

Being Catholic, I know a bit about the power of confession. I find that confession is a cathartic exercise. It helps to put my mind at ease during times of stress and transition (and I've got both of those things going for me today). Throughout my speech, I will pause and confess bits of information that I need to get off my chest. As Mrs. Guy says, "Never worry alone." For instance, I have concerns about the size of this tent and especially about its structural integrity. Please take a moment to identify your most convenient escape route. Might I suggest to my grandparents that they limber up a bit as a safety precaution? Maybe some squat thrusts? Avoid the freshmen. In any emergency they will just linger like lost cows, so avoid that quagmire.

Now for my second and more serious confession: during the winter of my first year at Nobles, I very much wanted to transfer to another school. I came to Nobles as a sophomore from a charter school in Dorchester. There, I was Summa Cum Laude throughout middle school and junior high. That quickly changed during my first semester at Nobles when I acquired an impressive collection of C's and D's. At the time, I said it was because of impossible course loads and teachers, but those weren't the reasons. Instead, I came to this school with certain assumptions, both about myself and about the types of people that I thought I would meet. Having done so well in my previous school, I figured my performance at Nobles would be equally as successful. I didn't feel the need to meet with my teachers for extra help, and I didn't prepare for tests and quizzes as thoroughly as I should have. When this notion proved to be incorrect and my grades began to suffer, I did what many teenage boys do when they face obstacles: nothing.

I was angry. I was angry about my poor grades. I was angry about the high marks that all of my peers received seemingly with ease. I was intimidated and I desperately wanted to leave Nobles. I had never been surrounded by so many people who came from such privilege and this intimidated me, perhaps more than anything. Apart from feeling obliged to purchase a pair of Sperries (which, to be honest, I do not regret), I avoided befriending many of my peers.

I told myself that their success was because of their wealth, not because they worked hard. They fit in at Nobles. They were born to be here, I thought. I didn't. I wanted out. I told my parents that I wanted out. I was prepared to transfer and then Mr. Guy, my advisor, stepped in and sat me down to talk.

At first, I excused my poor academic performance as being part of a rough transition, something that would soon blow over. But after a few months, I did not foresee it blowing over, because I still could not picture myself becoming a member of this community. Mr. Guy obviously sensed this, because he asked me a straightforward question: "Do you feel like you belong here?" I was taken aback, but I responded: "No, I don't." As soon as I said it, I felt liberated. Mr. Guy simply nodded, and for the first time I realized that someone at Nobles understood how I felt. Mr. Guy explained to me that students are not accepted to Nobles because they can fail, but because the school has faith in the abilities of those individuals to succeed. "You are not an exception to this rule," explained Mr. Guy. He was right. Success does not come without hard work and failure, and perseverance is the key. Only when I was able to accept my surroundings, and only when I was able to accept people for who they really were, and only when I was able to accept that I was now a part of something that was more important than just myself, only then could I become resilient enough to do well at Nobles. I never thanked Mr. Guy for sitting me down that day. That conversation changed my life. So, thank you, Mr. Guy.

Now it's time for my third confession: A message for Mrs. Twohig and the dedicated staff of the Putnam Library—I have acquired a collection of five books by Hemingway, one novel by Faulkner, everything by Salinger, and a book or two by Dickens over the past four years. They make my shelf at home look pretty classy. They are way overdue, so perhaps we can work something out. Also, I never wrote anything on the wall of the boy's bathroom. Neither did Will Burns.

In my junior year I got involved with MSA, the Multicultural Students Association, at the invitation of Mr. Tejada, the funniest guy I know. MSA taught me how to think about my identity at Nobles. Leading MSA provided me with a platform to address issues that were important to me, particularly ones regarding class. And through this experience I gained confidence, which meant I was no longer making up injuries to get out of JV football practice—who knew that you could pull a hip flexor while sitting on the bench. After all, my only real playing time involved taking the impact test over and over again. Time for my fourth confession: mom, dad, papa, nana, and the rest of my family that is here today: I love you. Also, I have a tattoo on my leg. It's a Celtic knot about the size of a gerbil. It was an impulsive decision, proof that I still have a lot to learn.

But I digress. We've all failed and we've used every excuse, but when you eventually get your footing you see how foolishly you behaved. To quote Rocky Balboa: "The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently, if you let it." But when you get up off your knees and gain your footing, you start to become who you were meant to be, because at Nobles they teach us not what to think, but how to think.

This past fall, Ms. Brennan told my Modernist Movement class about Professor David Foster Wallace, a brilliant but tormented author whose Kenyon College commencement speech from 2005 speaks to what we all know to be true. Mr. Wallace wrote: "Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience, because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed."

You may not have to reinvent yourself the way that I did, but we have all been taught how to be generous, compassionate, and aware citizens of the world. That gives us the power to determine the way we navigate life's obstacles.

Since you're not going to remember any of this, I would like to end with a suggestion and a piece of advice. My suggestion is for the English department: keep changing that English curriculum. One suggestion, please get rid of Beloved. I admit, it is a masterpiece of modern literature, but only eight kids in my class really understood it. Even replacing it with a book by E.O. Wilson, or Paul Caudros, would be a gift.

Now for my piece of advice: know when to leave. In six months I'll be turning 20. It's time I leave Nobles. Going to my fourth Nobles prom would just be wrong.

I don't pretend to have any more answers at this point than anyone else. In fact, I probably have more questions coming out of this place than I did coming in, and that's how it should be. But what I do know is that Nobles has given us the greatest gift that any of us have ever received: the gift of itself.

With that gift comes not only a first class education but also a duty to give back, to both the school as well as to the world.

Let's see what we can do.

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"Twenty Miles Away, but a World Apart" by Pat Toomey, student speaker