Being Valedictorian - My Thoughts

By Tanzil Zubair Bin Zaman

Published on Jun 18, 2021

On the 15th of June, this year, as Valedictorian, I gave a speech on the graduation ceremony of my batch, addressing my friends, my teachers, our supervisors, and everyone else present.

Nearly all the people who’ve ever known me in school.

The speech was just shy of 4 minutes long, but it felt longer, and was longer still in the making: give or take all of the 5 years I’d been here.

Tempus fugit | Time Flies

Over these 5 years, through clips shared on social media and the like, I had of course caught glimpses of my seniors at their graduation ceremonies, from time to time: talking, laughing, dancing, and yes, even giving speeches. It had felt wondrous; more fictitious than real; and even though I had never really thought about it, it had always felt the same unimaginably vast distance away as ever, even as it got closer and closer.

Because after all, people who were graduating had their lives in order; they were responsible, grown adults who had everything figured out. I, on the other hand, was still just a student: I had overdue homework, assignments, and definitely didn’t have my life as organized as I would want it.

Naturally, then, graduation had to be very far off, right? At-least far enough off that a changed, more responsible, organized version of myself would end up being the one experiencing it?

As I thought this, I checked my watch, as I had done so many times before: a rough gauge of when “The Future” that contained all this would arrive. 7 minutes.

Puer, Iam Non | A Child, No Longer

Standing there, about to walk to the podium, I smiled ruefully: a person out of time and just beginning to be aware of it. Where had the time gone? It didn’t feel like the future. Not yet anyways.

Where had the time gone? I thought about it all, as far back as my memory could stretch. Yet no matter how far back I went, I could only ever find today, day after day, stretching on for as long as I could remember; an infinite present, eternally static.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, though, the days had bled into weeks, and the weeks into years. And I, and we, had grown up.

And here I was, at a podium, about to give a speech as Valedictorian, undeniably in the future, those precious 7 minutes now also spent.

Where had the time gone?

Loquela | The Speech

Standing there, speech in hand, I still didn’t feel quite ready. I was still just me, still not very responsible, still disorganized, still with overdue work, how could I be graduating?

This immense honor and responsibility I had been entrusted with, representing so many people, so many unique individuals, each with their hopes and dreams and inspirations, it scared me. Did I really deserve it?

I started the speech, an essay I had spent weeks writing, and thankfully, the words flowed freely. I had revised them in the mirror so many times after all. And yet, in the back of my mind, a thought kept clawing.

It plagued me even as I soldiered on with my speech, talking about my peers, our teachers, our families; drowned in a torrent of reminiscence thought it was, it fought to break free, to surface.

It hit me when I was about halfway through the speech, my breath catching: maybe, just maybe, my seniors hadn’t been as perfect as I’d imagined them to be either, when they had stood here. Maybe, they hadn’t been ready either.

Paratus | Readiness

Giving my speech, I thought of my friends. My dear friends, who had their own problems, their own flaws they worked so hard to deal with, their own demons they battled day in and day out, but also their own amazing skills and talents too.

And I thought of myself. I wouldn’t have described myself as ready, not by a long shot, but I was here wasn’t I? Beaten and bruised but still standing. Having fallen a million times but gotten up a million and one.

Perhaps then, being ready hadn’t ever been the goal at all. Perhaps it had always been being ready enough, and having the courage to embrace the uncertainty that encompasses the rest. Having the courage, to make it up as we go along.

Vita | Life

Yet among these countless things thrust upon me that I did not feel ready for, I found, I wasn’t ready most for it all to end. It had all been a constant for so long: a predictable, solid foundation I could always come back to. An unmoving rock among a swirling sea, without which, I felt incomplete. Unbalanced.

But standing on such a precipice though, scary and nerve-wracking thought it was, has made me realize: life is an infinite stream of firsts. 

Its hurried nature forcing us to move on from the good, yes, but also the bad. Its briefness is what gives it purpose, its uncertainty its meaning.

A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts, after all. It’s because it’s a privilege to experience it.

Eligens Vivere | Choosing, To Live

I say all of this, here, after already having given the speech, because it is so very important to realize, that life isn’t about being perfect, or being ready. It’s about changing, and appreciating all of ourselves: skills, talents, flaws and all. About having no regrets.

It’s about goodbyes, yes, but it’s also about hellos. It’s about pain, but it’s about love too, and perhaps most importantly, it’s about knowing that there will be pain, knowing, that we may have to say goodbye, but choosing to love, and say hello, and make memories, and laugh, and cry, and live all the same.

It’s about knowing that we may have to go someday, but choosing to lose ourselves in today; choosing, to stay. For now. For a little while longer. Stay, because after all, the sky is so blue, and today, this, this is so lovely.

Non Vale | Not Goodbye

As I finished that speech, I thought about all that had led me to where I was standing; the good, and the bad, and as I finished that speech, I had no regrets. I had made memories here, I had laughed, I had cried, I had made bonds that would last a lifetime, I had lived. I had not been ready, it had not been perfect, and I. Wouldn’t. Change. A. Thing.