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East Lyme's Alaina Crowell - Academic Scholar Orator

East Lyme, this is what we have been waiting for.

Asking ourselves what there was left to look forward to for the past year and a half became an exhausting exercise. A phrase so opportunistic had never felt so empty and so half-hearted.

Yet, here we are. We made it. We triumphed over the other classes during Spirit Week, we skipped, we dined and danced at prom without dancing or a dance floor, we painted senior spots that we idled too long in and paid too much money for. Now, we are moments away from traversing this stage, diplomas cradled in our arms and smiles spread wide beneath our masks, into the next chapter of our lives.

And then we will return to our seats only to be caught in a crosswind. Our moments will have passed, and the cycle will begin again: “what’s there to look forward to”, “what’s next?”

For some, this thought immediately manifests into a competition of comparison between classmates. I found myself deepest in this game during the college admissions process. I’ll always remember a mid-October evening when I opened my school-issued laptop to discover I was admitted to my top choice, but I’ll remember the day I withdrew my application from there the most. I only had eyes for East Lansing -- If I wasn’t going to be a freshman at Michigan State this fall, I was going to make sure I transferred a few falls down the road.

Three months and 20 pep talks later, I convinced myself I was happy with my decision, that I’d look forward to calling East Lansing home eventually, that I was headed to a Michigan community college in the fall.

At that moment, I felt myself caught in a crosswind. Barren trees shook in the gust, and East Lansing disappeared. I remembered a college I applied to during the summer. Stars shone between battered branches, and I remembered how five years ago I had been five minutes from its campus for a family friend’s birthday, safe from a sudden rain under a colonial tavern. A moon rose above the fog, and I realized I had been fixating on the wrong college for the wrong reasons. It was a clear winter night when I finally chose a better fit over reputation and familiarity.

We are all so different from one another that one cookie-cutter future could not possibly hold all of our potentials. Adolescence may convince us that conforming is in our best interest or that some chapters are already written. The truth is that we write our own next chapters. No two books are the same, and it’s worth celebrating. You are the only person who truly understands you and your passions. You are comparable only to you.

We are a class of future nurses, engineers, teachers, electricians, doctors, artists, scientists, performers, and more. We persevered through muted mics and blank Zoom screens, half-empty classrooms and masked sports games, to be here today, graduating now, together as one class. Regardless of where we’ll be this fall, we are seated at the same folded chairs that, luckily, we know were cleaned after their last basketball game. We hope.

So, here we are. We made it. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, exhale. Remember how you feel at this moment.

Class of 2021, we are enough.

We will write our next chapters, for us and only us.

We will graduate, we are nearly there, and after we’ve stopped to soak in our moment, we will continue looking forward, forging our own paths. We will continue looking forward, not because we love the sting of waiting, but because we see our next chapters dawning and we will proudly pursue what comes next.

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