2016 Valedictorian Speech by Audrey Kintisch ’16
I would like to start this speech with a confession: I’m scared out of my mind right now. I’m scared of this speech: that my words will trip and stutter instead of flowing smoothly off of my tongue. I’m scared of the evacuation notice posted in every dorm: “Packages must be ready by May 22!” I’m scared that the ties that bind me to every one of you will stretch, and eventually snap, under the heavy forces of distance and time. I’m scared of wasps, which I have seen far too many of these past few days. I’m scared of the unknown, the future, of putting this wonderful place in my past.
The last time I was this scared was the night before my first day of classes at Northfield Mount Hermon. At 9:30 pm, I received an email, or as we called it back then, SWIS, from Donald Marshall. He had sent out the first homework assignment for the half-credit Programming in Java course, and I incorrectly assumed it was due the following day. I was supposed to watch a 30-minute video and take notes. Although this sounds like a wonderfully simple task now, to 13-year-old me, the idea of staying up until 10 pm or later doing homework was inconceivable. (Times have changed.) I remember crying and hugging my mother, terrified that I was about to enter a world where everyone would be more talented than I, where I would not be able to keep up with the work, and where my self-made identity of “the smart kid” would collapse around me like a foam wall in a ball pit.
I was right in the best ways possible.
To address my first concern: that everyone would be more talented than I. That fear itself showed my unhappiness at that point of my life. I felt pressured to be the smartest one in the room, and to be the best at everything, whatever that means. Over the past four years, as I have watched my peers on the field, on the stage, in the dorm; I have learned that talent is so much more than grades. My academic intelligence is not more valuable than Maje’s voice, Delaney’s kindness, Dain’s determination, Rye’s integrity, Gratia’s insightfulness, Diana’s independence, Yash’s smile, Max’s creativity, Hendrik’s charisma … I could go on for a while, but unfortunately, I do have a time limit. So, yes, here at NMH I was surrounded by people more talented than I, but I have learned and accepted that this will, and should, be true wherever I go. Instead of putting myself down for others’ strengths and my own flaws, thanks to NMH, I now celebrate both as part of being human.
My second concern about coming to NMH was that I would not be able to keep up with the work. This also proved to be very true, as I feel it was for all of us at some point or another during our time here. However, the marvelous thing about NMH is that it never once let us give up. Everyone here was rooting for each of us, and they did everything in their power to help us succeed. NMH pushed me to what I thought was my limit, and then kept pushing, until I realized that my limit is the limit as x approaches two of the integral of negative one over x minus two from zero to x. In other words, it’s as infinite as the ever-expanding boundary of the universe. NMH taught me that there is nothing I cannot do, as long as I temporarily suspend all my social media accounts and Netflix subscription. Both the realization and the math I accredit to Dick Peller’s BC calculus class.
To address my final concern: that my self-made identity of “the smart kid” would crumble. This, again, turned out to be true, and I could not be more proud of that fact.
Some of you may be confused, as I am aware that I still do have that reputation. What changed, though, is that I no longer have to rely on that part of my identity to make myself feel whole. I stand in front of you today as Audrey Lynn Kintisch: a complicated, multifaceted human being, not a stereotype, not a gender, not a disability. I have NMH to thank for that.
Before I came here, I felt pressured to compensate for the things I struggled with as a result of having one hand. The noose of the “inspirationally disabled” trope fell around my neck, and I pushed myself to be the best at something, anything. That “anything” turned out to be academics. I reached a point where to me, my self worth was determined by the number written in red pen in the upper left corner of the paper on my desk, preferably with a smiley face next to it. Breaking out of that mindset took the better part of the last four years, and I could not have done it alone. It took my friends, my family, my teachers, and my advisors encouraging me to get enough sleep, to enjoy athletics, to be an RL, to follow my passions, to laugh at awful jokes, to try new things, and to appreciate my downtime as much as my work time, for me to truly accept that I am much, much more than a number on a piece of paper.
If I could address my terrified freshman self, I would say: you are about to embark on the greatest journey of your admittedly short life. You are going to work harder than you ever thought possible, survive on less sleep than you ever thought possible, and meet people greater than you ever thought possible. To NMH, I say today: I cannot find words sufficient enough to express my gratitude to the students, faculty, and staff that form the NMH community. So I must stick with the tried and true classic: thank you. Thank you, NMH. Thank you so, so very much.
And now, to the Class of 2016: Thank you for being such a loving, supportive community. I love you all to pieces, and I wish you the best of luck as you venture forth into this great, wide world. Congratulations, Class of 2016!