Cristi Kennedy, President of the Montclair High School class of 2017 delivered her speech during the commencement ceremony on June 22, 2017 to a standing room only crowd of 2500 guests, faculty and graduates.
The six-minute speech, the first large public speech by Kennedy, was delivered with confidence, inflection and humor. Kennedy followed Benilde Little, the commencement guest speaker and international author, editor and inspirational speaker.
Kennedy reflected on the journey she and her fellow graduates had traveled to earn the right to their diplomas, a goal that was not alway certain. The 2017 graduating class was the 150th for Montclair High School. Kennedy reminded the community that the road was not always smooth to arrive at the diversity and inclusion that Montclair High School has today. She reminded her audience of the historic 1966 Martin Luther King Jr. visit that was met with protests against equality in education. Kennedy encouraged her peers to take with them into the world all that they have learned from living in Montclair. She urged them to reflect on the values that define the community where they have come of age, and to take those values with them into their futures:
“…Do Good, Be Kind and Very Brave.”
On the world today Kennedy was confident and sure that her peers would take an engaged posture, proactive and vigilant stance:
“…The world is constantly changing, and it definitely looks different than it did four years ago. I don’t know what it will look like four years from now, but I know that if everyone sitting behind me today has a hand in the coming changes, we will be okay.”
Kennedy, an experienced world traveler who has been to five of the seven world continents on community service projects, speaks from a place of understanding. She values the uniqueness of Montclair and its place on the world’s stage. Kennedy’s travels exposed her to communities that lack the benefits of a racial, economic, social and religious diversity. She is grateful for the public school education system and finds security in knowing that the future of her community and country rests securely in the hands, hearts and minds of her peers.
Finally Kennedy left her community with her personal pledge:
“..My commitment is to stand by what I believe, even if I am standing alone, as was taught to me by all of you.”
Herein is the entirety of her speech:
Good afternoon, my name is Cristi Kennedy and it is my honor to stand in front of you today, a day that we all thought would never come, a day that has come too quick.
I would first like to acknowledge all the parents, teachers, faculty, administrators, coaches, mentors and friends that have made today possible. We are here because of your constant support and guidance so thank you. And to my parents, you have stood by me and supported me unconditionally.
To the Class of 2017, we made it. Over these past four years, we have braved new friendships, we have stayed up way too late writing essays assigned to us weeks before, and we have dragged our sorry selves out of bed for zero period. We have surprised ourselves with what we have risen to. This is a day filled with bittersweet pride. Uneasiness as we look towards our undefined futures and relief as we applaud ourselves for this accomplishment we were not always sure we would achieve.
Like all of you, I have learned a thing or two these past four years and here is what I know…
As the 150th graduating class of Montclair High School, we will forever be a small part of history. On sunny spring days, when we got ice cream at Applegates, we were visiting a spot on the underground railroad. We were taught the most basic things– to share, to play, to be kind, in a school system that was one of the first in the country to implement forced school busing in order to end de facto segregation. And we have attended a high school where Dr Martin Luther King Jr once gave a speech that incited people to line up for blocks to protest equality in education. Whether you are aware of it or not, the history of this town has impacted who you are today, as a soon to be high school graduate. Wherever you may end up, I hope you all take the time to learn and cherish the history of your surroundings, for it is an essential piece of who we are.
Here is another thing I know… as we embark on the next chapter of our lives, it would serve us well to remember the way we were treated and treated one another at Montclair High School.
Whether it was holding the Park Street door for someone even if it made you late to class or posting in the Facebook group to warn your classmates about the parking authority, you were a part of a community. At the end of the day there was always going to be someone there to have your back. Someone to grab you a bagel because your lab took up your lunch period, someone to send you classwork when everyone was sick the Friday of a music festival or a teacher to sit with you for hours after school to review for the upcoming test. We are extremely fortunate to have been a part of a special place with a big heart.
Here is another thing I know…Our high school is filled with people who come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing with them all kinds of beliefs. This year my schedule took me to the freshman building for the last three periods of the day. As I walked through the hallways and thought back to our freshman year, a time that I am sure most of us, including myself, would like to forget, I would remember our uninformed selves, and how we would get angry or personal when we debated politics or the best pizza places in Montclair. The shift towards respect and the attempt to be an accepting and understanding group happened slowly but it is evident in all of us today. This shift started with a curiosity to understand each other. We live in a time where we must be willing to look through other people’s perspectives and attempt to listen and hear them. We do that well at Montclair High School.
What I don’t know is what the future holds for us… but I am confident that everyone sitting behind me today is capable of going out into the world and enacting change. I believe it is our responsibility. The world is constantly changing, and it definitely looks different than it did four years ago. I don’t know what it will look like four years from now, but I know that if everyone sitting behind me today has a hand in the coming changes, we will be okay. I hope you honor the public school system and the things you’ve learned here, and I hope you bring those things with you, to your new lives.
My commitment is to stand by what I believe, even if I am standing alone, as was taught to me by all of you. My commitment is to build a similar environment as I progress in life… an environment that equals the home I have found here. As I said before, this town has a huge heart. It is more than big enough for each of us to take a piece of it out into the world. That, more than anything else, is our responsibility. I hope you will join me, Class of 2017, in taking all that we have been given, and all that we have been taught, and going out into the world to offer it up. Do good. Be kind and very brave.
I cannot wait to see everyone at Thanksgiving.
Cristi Eleanor Kennedy
President, Class of 2017
Montclair High School, Montclair New Jersey.
If you would like to purchase any of these pictures, click on a photo in this article, or click here.
To subscribe to The Montclair Dispatch, click here.
If you are looking to advertise in The Montclair Dispatch, click here.