Our Voices by Pria Parker
Wow. I used to see 2021 as this mythical, nonexistent year. 21 was just the number before our school usernames. Yet here we are. I’m so proud of all of you. After 11 long years of school, then 1 really long, weird year of school, we made it! I don’t feel qualified to stand up here and give you all advice, so instead, I’d like to ask you some favors. But first, let’s chat a bit. Most of you have already turned 18 or you will soon. Congrats! You’re adults! But I’m sure people ask you if it feels any different, and regardless of what you respond, I feel like the truth is, it doesn’t. But there is one big change that comes with being 18, and that change is in our voices.
The summer before eighth grade, I took a sailing class with three brothers who had just moved to Hingham. As I got to know them, I noticed that their speaking voices, all quite similar, seemed very eloquent, very intellectual. One thing that stuck out to me was the way they pronounced the word “and.” Because they didn’t say “and” how I say it and how a lot of you probably say it, but rather they said “and,” with the long vowel sound for the “a.” I was rather enamored by this way of speaking, and I decided, well, they sound smart, so maybe if I pronounce my a’s like this, I’ll sound smart too. But one day, my friends called me out on it and asked why I was speaking with an accent. I laughed it off and said it was a mistake, but I was really quite embarrassed. But if I truly wanted to change the way I spoke to sound “smarter,” then wouldn’t I have wanted them to notice it? And yet when they did, all I felt was shame, not in the actual pronunciation, but rather in myself and my own insecurity in my own speaking voice. But this isn’t unique to me. We all try to speak in different ways to make ourselves sound smarter.
Like I said, I cannot give you advice, but I will ask a few favors of you, and this is the first: Be true to your voice, and believe in it. We can improve our vocabulary, we can fine-tune our public speaking skills, but fundamentally, your perspective that you have gained from your life can only accurately be presented by your voice. You may not be able to entirely define or comprehend what your voice sounds like, but the people around you can. They can tell when you are trying to sound smart or cool because you don’t sound genuine. That individuality is what we need. Be genuine.
For my second favor to ask: whatever you believe in, use your voice to fight for it. There are an infinite number of things wrong with the world, and it can be crushing to think about, but you can’t fix it all. But when it all feels hopeless, we can still grab onto something we believe in and try to help. Stand up, say something. The world loves hearing from young people because we are the hope for the future. So every time we repost something on social media to bring awareness to some issue, that’s great, but now, we must get up and write a letter, send an email, make a phone call. Seriously, actually do it. And now, at 18, we can vote! Maybe some of you already voted, maybe some of you even attended Town Meeting. We have power. Let’s use it.
Although a great deal of us are lucky that we are in positions where our voices can be heard, there are so many more people whose voices are silenced or simply not heard over the everlasting drone of the world and its faults. And so, I come to my third, and most important, favor: use your voice to amplify the voices of others. No matter how big or small the action, I ask you to consider how you can do this throughout your future, and I promise that I will do the same. We all will inevitably make mistakes, but all I can ask, all anyone can ask, is that you learn from those mistakes and keep trying.
So for me, for each other, for yourself, and for the world, believe in yourself and your voice. Use your voice by speaking up for yourself and what you believe in, and use your voice to amplify the voices of others. Best of luck to all of you, and I can’t wait to see what you all accomplish. Thank you.