Henry High School 2022 Graduation Ceremony Keynote Address

Henry keynote speaker Kim Cook with alum Jamel Mayweather.

This speech was written and spoken by Kimberly Cook, Henry High School Counselor

I am deeply honored to speak at this year’s graduation. It has been a privilege to be a part of this class’s journey.  You have all shared some experiences these last few years that will forever bind you, but you didn’t let these experiences define you.

COVID arrived your sophomore year and rocked the foundation of what we called life.  We shifted to distance learning, worked from home on our chrome books with barking dogs, screaming siblings and chirping smoke detectors. You were reduced to a letter on a dot on a screen.  Some of you began working to help your family, some of you were required to care for siblings. For some, this was a time of isolation, fear and anxiety,….and a scarcity of toilet paper…..But, Class of 22, you didn’t let that define you.

In May of that year, George Floyd was senselessly murdered on a street corner in South Minneapolis, in front of the world, just miles from many of your homes. The city mourned, the country cried, and the world watched as the civil unrest turned violent in many cities around the US. businesses burned and ashes of despair, anger, hopelessness and resentment filled the air. Peaceful and powerful protests happened but were often disrupted. “Agitators” and white supremacists came to our city and drove the streets without license plates, terrorizing our neighborhoods….But you didn’t let that define you.

Then came the strike this spring. Classes were halted, plans for letters of recommendations and college applications stalled, and communication about when and how this would end was confusing. We finally returned to the classroom only to find out the school day was lengthened and the school year extended…..But you didn’t let that define you.

Do you know what did define you? Your resilience and your brilliance…and your senior prank! I don’t think brilliance is defined by ACT scores or GPA’s. But rather the little things that make a big difference in making the world a better place like smiles that shine through a mask, genuine hugs, sharing rides to school, seeing the good in people, assuming positive intentions, and working together for the greater good.

Now let me give you a few examples of your resilience and your brilliance…

   -Among you is the student who was strong and insightful during distance learning and realized they       needed some extra support and asked for help.

   -Among you is the student that used the tragedy of George Floyd to become socially active and volunteered at a food drive.

   -Among you is the student that realized representation matters in our schools and decided to enter into the field of education to make a difference in our community.

   -Among you is the student who lost a parent last year, but persevered and is walking the stage today despite all the grief.

   -Among you is the student who spoke up to injustices.

   -Among you is the student who excelled in distance learning.

   -Among you is the student who knows their passion and is following their dreams at a technical college.

   -Among you is the student who applied and received the scholarship to help pay for their college education.                                                                                                     The list goes on and on…..

You have had to learn the hard way, that on the other side of a challenge, is a blessing. Let this guide you in the future. Your resilience and brilliance is setting you up for success in the future because you now know you can do hard things.  They say you can’t grow if you stay inside your comfort zone, and you, my dear students, have clearly been pushed way outside of yours the past two years. Now go and blaze new trails… “take the risks. Make the big moves, even if they’re small moves. Forge ahead with your lives in any and every direction. I’m asking you to be fearless”…Not sure if we have any This Is Us fans in the house, but I stole that line from a recent episode.  In the words of Mauri Freistleben, “You are loved more than you know. You are braver than you can imagine. You are more beautiful beyond what you can sometimes see and stronger than you can sometimes feel”

As the chapter of life called “high school” closes, may you carry your resilience and your brilliance

into the next chapter.  I wish you peace, light, and love seniors!