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Good morning, NMH! It is such a privilege and an honor to be standing before you all today. I am beyond grateful for the chance to speak to the whole school, a final hurrah in my last week on this grassy hill. My friends, my peers, my classmates, my teammates, my dormmates, my teachers, my coaches, my advisor –– I cherish the moments I’ve spent with each of you over the past four years. I understand that I was given this opportunity to speak to all of you today because of my achievements in the classroom. While my time spent in the classroom here has been invaluable to me, I have found that some of my greatest learning moments from my time at NMH occurred outside of Beveridge, Cutler, or even the Lower Mod. When I first came to NMH, in the fall of 2015, a shy 14-year-old leaving home for the first time, I was like a daisy, easily bent and blown over by the wind. I had no resiliency, no inner-strength. Over the last four years, I have sent roots deep into the ground, and I have grown into a tree, mighty and tall. Now, I will not be blown over, I will not be bent. I stand tall, I stand proud, and I stand with self-respect. I have been able to build this resiliency in myself by discovering my three pillars of strength –– the rowing team, my family, and myself –– and by learning to embody three values –– perseverance, love, and self-acceptance. In my freshman year, I was diagnosed with three autoimmune disorders. Celiac disease makes my white blood cells destroy my small intestine every time I eat gluten, Hashimoto’s disease makes my immune system attack my thyroid, and Sjogren’s syndrome damages the moisture-producing glands in my body and saps my body of strength. When I look back on my first year at NMH, I recall a pervasive fog of nausea and crippling fatigue. Even after cutting gluten out of my diet, my symptoms lasted well into sophomore year, as I waited more than half a year for the medication finally to start taking effect. That year, I abandoned my dream of playing varsity ice hockey, because I knew that my body couldn’t keep up. I felt demoralized and reduced by my diseases. But as spring began to near, for the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt good. I didn’t feel nauseous. I didn’t feel fatigued. Of course, I still had good days and bad days, but at least my life was no longer just an endless string of bad days. So I decided not to give up on myself. I decided to join the crew team. I cautiously walked into the first crew meeting and peered around the room. There were many girls who had been rowing for years, and a handful, like me, who had never touched an oar, and who were looking to try their hand –– or should I say legs? –– at rowing. Initially, I was overwhelmed by talk of 2k splits, wing rigors, and catching crabs, but I was welcomed with open arms onto the team. And I soon learned something great about rowing: it’s hard if you’re perfectly healthy, and it’s hard if you live with three chronic illnesses. I wasn’t at a disadvantage because I struggled with nausea and fatigue. In fact, if you’re not nauseous and fatigued by the end of a 2k on the erg or a race piece on the water, you didn’t row hard enough. As I settled into the team, I discovered another amazing thing about rowing at NMH: my teammates are always there to support me. They cheered for me when I pulled a personal best 5k on the erg, and they had my back when I caught a crab, got my oar stuck deep in the water, in the last minute of a head race. My teammates are a constant in my life, and they will always be there to push, encourage, and inspire me, even as my health fluctuates. One day, I had to leave Chinese class on five separate occasions to throw up in the Beveridge bathroom, head bent over the toilet bowl, retching stomach acid long after the abrasive gluten had left my system. But the next day, I was back in the boat, flying down the Connecticut River with my teammates. One of the best feelings I’ve experienced in my five seasons rowing here is the start of a race. I’m sitting at three-quarter slide, blade squared and buried, eyes up, chest up, breathe, breathe. I’m in two-seat, with stroke pair in front of me, the two teammates I will follow; I will add my power to their rhythm. Bow seat is behind me, and I know she is backing me up 100 percent. And my coxswain, nestled in the hull of the boat, will lead us to victory. Head in the boat, eyes up, listen for the start call. Attention, Go! Pry…. POP, Pry…. Our boat lurches forward, and now we’re locked into this race. I’m in this race, and I’m in it with my teammates. My teammates are some of the best inspirations in my life, and they give me the strength to persevere. And because they push me to persevere, I have become all the more resilient, ready to bounce back every time illness gets me down. When I first went away to boarding school, I was so busy with my new life and all the new people. I was finally away from my family and I felt free to figure out who I was without my family. In my sophomore winter, just three days before Christmas, my older sister turned 18 and left home. I have not seen her since. I have only spoken with her twice over the past two and a half years. Anger, grief, and anguish well up inside me whenever I think of her. My heart becomes a gaping hole when I try to reconcile my love for her with her abandonment of me and my family. My sister had threatened to run away in prior years, but I never thought she really would abandon me. My family has never been the same since. As painful as her absence is for me, it has made me see immense value in the presence of my other family members. My mother, my father, my little sister, Tess, and my little brother, Roman, have always been there for me and they will always be there for me. They will never abandon me. And it is my duty as a sister to hold tight to Tess and Roman, so they know that I love them. I cannot go back in time and hold my older sister closer to me. I now see that I was foolish to think of boarding school as a chance to get away from my family, as a chance to find out who I was without my family. I am so much better with my family. My family is what makes me strong. I find it within me to go on, day after day, to tough it out through the hardest moments, because of my parents’ unwavering support and because of my siblings’ unconditional love. At NMH, I am physically separated from my family, but I now understand that does not mean I have to be emotionally distant. Now, as a senior at boarding school, I feel closer to my family than ever before. And I feel more resilient knowing that the love I share with my family is deeper. I have always been rather introverted, and I have always found it hard to make friends. In my first couple of years here, I found it much easier to spend a fleeting 22 minutes –– not counting commercial breaks –– with Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe in the comfort of my own room rather than brave a dining hall of unknown faces, trying to find a place to sit. In ninth grade, I tried to make friends, with little success. By the end of the year, I still hadn’t found “my people,” that great group of friends I could always rely on, but I didn’t worry too much. There were three more years, and of course, our class size would double in sophomore year. But sophomore year crept past, and I was still the odd one out. By junior year, desperate for friendship, I tried inserting myself into a well-established group. But they had all known each other since “day one,” and I was two years too late. The school was already sectioned off into little networks of friendship and love, and I seemed to be the only unconnected dot. It only took so much rejection before I convinced myself that I was always going to be the odd one out, I was always going to be the one who got left behind, and I was always going to be unwanted. I didn’t deserve friendship, and I didn’t deserve happiness. One day, at a school dance, completely surrounded by people, I realized that I was more lonely than when I was alone. Somehow, I actually preferred my own company to being encompassed by a group of people who didn’t really care about me. This realization was the first step toward showing myself a little more love. I started to view my time alone not as missing out on friendship, but as a chance to spend time with me. I’ve come to really value the time I spend alone. I can spend hours up in my bedroom at home sewing and serging, making quilts, stuffed animals, and clothes. I can sing completely off-key to soft rock from the ’70s. I can nestle into a little cocoon on my bed to do homework or watch TV. But most importantly, I can just be by myself and be perfectly content. Since I’ve come to like myself more, I’ve started to view myself as someone who deserves happiness. And the ironic thing is, that after more than three years of struggling to find friendship at NMH, it was only once I started to accept and appreciate myself that making friends became easier. Now I’m about to graduate, and I still haven’t found my people, and I’m still not part of a group. But I’ve been able to create more friendships and I am significantly happier. It all started with a little self-acceptance. I know that friends may come and go, and I know I will be moving on to Wellesley next year, where I will be surrounded by new faces. But I will always be with me wherever I go. I can always count on myself, and I find my strength in that stability. In four years time at NMH, one of my greatest accomplishments was discovering my three pillars of strength: my teammates, my family, and myself. My teammates have taught me the meaning of perseverance, how to go on in the face of illness and adversity. My family’s unwavering support and unconditional love have given me the strength I need to face any challenge. And learning to accept myself has empowered me to count on myself, to draw strength from my own dependability. I have shared my journey to find resilience with you because I hope that you will take the time to identify those people, places, or things in your life that make you strong. There is nothing more valuable than resiliency: the ability to bounce back after failure. Take a moment now to visualize one person, place, or thing that gives you the strength day after day to go on, and give thanks. We must cherish what makes us strong. Now here I stand, looking out over a sea of familiar faces, across a vast horizon, the sun’s first rays peeking out, climbing, reaching up towards the heavens. The rays of sun and warmth, rising, lift my heart with them, and I feel light. I feel steady. I feel strong. Thank you, NMH.

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