“Where We Are From” by Catherine Manning, Valedictorian Speech

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Where We Are From by Catherine Manning

Before I begin, I would like to make two promises to you all about my speech. First and most importantly, my speech contains not a single joke about the whale watch. And secondly, my speech does not include the words "these unprecedented times." Now, with that out of the way, I would like to ask you all to think of the most common question that you have been asked recently. If you are a member of the Class of 2021, you know what this question is. Since December, every adult in your life has been asking in casual conversation, "Do you know what you are doing next year?" And since March, you have probably heard that same question from someone every day. Wherever you are headed, the question "What are your plans for next year?" is simply a fact of life for second semester seniors. Now, I would like you to think about 3 months into the future. No one will be asking you this question anymore. Wherever you are going, by the time you will have arrived, the answer will be fairly obvious.

Once each of us arrives at our new location, for our new beginning, it may be a bit of a relief to no longer be asked about our future plans. I can guarantee that, instead, every conversation with a potential new friend will begin with a much different question, the question that I want to take a few moments to reflect on today: "Where are you from?"

This seems like a pretty simple icebreaker, a gateway to four minutes of awkward conversation at an early September gathering with a bunch of strangers. How will you answer it? A lot of you will simply say Massachusetts, I'm sure. Some of you will say Boston, just to sound cool. Others will say "Hingham, Massachusetts," and then go on to explain that it's a small town on the South Shore, as many will never have heard of it. But what does it mean to be from here, from Hingham?

When talking to these new people, you will realize something.

Maybe for the first time, you cannot say "Nona's" or "Atlantic" and have everyone immediately know what you are talking about. You won't be joking about the walk from far. Once you are away from your hometown for the first time, you will begin to realize what having a hometown means. Whether, like me, you began preschool class at South School with Mrs. Lucas, joined us in Middle School, or even senior year, we all will graduate as part of the Hingham High Class of 2021. So, I ask you again, what does that mean? What is it that we share?

I know everyone thinks their class is special. Let's just say the Class of 2020 certainly thought they were. But we have done more than survive a simple pandemic. We were the first class to have all three years at the new middle school, and the first class to get chromebooks. We were the last class to get to go to Canobie Lake Park. Both Mr. Bodie at the Middle School and Dr. Girouard McCann at the High School retired right before we were set to enter their schools. This can't be a coincidence: they must have heard about us. We only had one full “normal” year of high school - freshman year. I'd like to remind you all that just about two years ago, there was a fire here. The fact that we all forgot about that shows just how much crazier things got from there.

We have all written various letters to our future selves: sixth grade, ninth grade, even in tenth grade health class. I am sure that no one predicted this is how things would end up. But, with our track record as a class, I think it was naive of us to assume normalcy. It makes a strange sort of sense. Many of you may have wondered "Why Me?" "Why Us?" at various points throughout this year. My answer to these self-pitying pleas, which I have made many times myself, believe me, is "Who Else?" No other group of people could have handled this as well as we did.

Considering this, let's turn back to my question: what does it mean to be from Hingham? 6 years ago, I texted my best friend for the first time. She was a new student entering seventh grade. In a typical Catie fashion, I wrote her a whole essay on the iPhone 4 Messages app, explaining our school and our town. I wrote about movies at the Shipyard, shopping at Derby Street, and going to Hingham Harbor. These are the things that I thought were important, and they are. But being from Hingham, and graduating from Hingham High School, means something else, something more. If you walk into any classroom that has a test or quiz that block, you will feel a palpable sense of unity. In the last 2 minutes before the bell rings, you will be hearing rapid fire explanations, seeing friends testing friends on vocab, and crowds hovering around a desk where a Good Samaritan is drawing a last minute diagram. There is no better way to explain the effect that a common challenge has on all of us. While we have our differences, when given an obstacle, whether the Pacer Test, an AP Exam, or a pandemic, we instinctively stick together. I'd say we have faced our fair share of crises. But we were prepared, because we knew how to act as a team. Just ask anyone who has ever been on a shared Google Doc at 2 A.M. Seeing someone else's little icon in the top right corner provides an incomparable sense of comfort. Ask any girl who has received a life saving hair elastic before gym class, any student who has been blessed with an extra calculator minutes before their math final, or for the past year or so, anyone who has received a warning text that HEY, YOUR MIC IS ON! Even before the events of last year, I saw every day how we all took care of each other. This is what Hingham High School means to me. It is shown in many ways - through our incredibly successful sports teams, performance groups, and highly awarded Student Council. It is shown in the fact that we are all here today. But, it is shown even more clearly in thousands of small moments that we have shared over the last four years.

So, when you are off to wherever you are going in the fall, and you are being asked that seemingly simple question, "Where are you from?" I hope that you don't just answer the question, but really remember what that answer means. We have all heard the cliché to never forget your roots. Truthfully, I think that our time here, especially this year, would be difficult to forget even if we tried. It's not enough not to forget our roots. We have roots to be cherished and to be particularly grateful for. Our growth was nourished and cared for by the important people in our lives, many of whom are here with us today. We owe our teachers, administrators, coaches, parents, and families a great deal of thanks. Even more than this place, these people are truly where we are from. They are, and we are, what makes Hingham, Hingham. Thank you all for being my hometown. Congratulations to the Class of 2021!

3 thoughts on ““Where We Are From” by Catherine Manning, Valedictorian Speech”

  1. I completely agree with Scott. Katie’s speech was from the heart and full of meaning. Best wishes to the Hingham High Class of 2021 – and congratulations for finding the “unity” in Community.


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