Providence Superintendent Chris Maher speaks to graduates about how their hard work and resilience in the face of tremendous challenges gives him hope during these uncertain times. The full text of his speech is below.
Class of 2017, today is a wonderful day. Today is a glorious day. Today is a day where you are surrounded by your loved ones. By your family. By your friends.
But I know that as you head out into the world – to college or to a career – that you may be feeling uncertainty. That you may be feeling anxiety. That you may even be feeling fear.
And no one can blame you if you have those feelings. For, class of 2017, these are serious times.
Families are under threat of deportation and separation.
Basic human rights – housing, education, and health care – are under attack in this country.
There is great uncertainty about the future.
But in serious times, those who have overcome the biggest challenges are the ones who emerge triumphant.
And when I look out into the crowd at you, I see a group of people who have overcome so much already.
Because all of you – every single one of you – is emerging from a school in a city that requires toughness, perseverance, and character to succeed.
Yes, there are non-believers. Yes, there are doubters. But they don’t know you.
They don’t know that some of you worked two jobs to help your family pay the rent.
They don’t know that some of you walked thousands of miles to this city to find a better life.
They don’t know that for some of you, English is not your second language. But your third, or your fourth.
Yes, there will always be non-believers. Yes, there will always be doubters.
But they don’t know you.
They don’t know your struggle. They don’t know what you’ve faced. And they have no idea what you are capable of.
And that is your great advantage. At your young age, you have already beaten down more obstacles in your path than many adults.
You are overcoming the barriers of poverty.
You are beating back ignorance and persecution.
You are throwing off the shackles of oppression!
You represent the very ideals upon which this country was founded.
Class of 2017, you ARE the American Dream!
You are the living breathing embodiment of the idea that any person, ANY person
… no matter the color of your skin
… no matter your gender identification
… no matter how much money is in your pocket
… no matter the language you speak
… no matter your sexual orientation
…no matter what God you pray to
… no matter your country of birth
ANY person can come to America and work your way to the top. That is the promise upon which this country was founded. That is the dream.
So when I think about the future of this country, and I think about these serious times, I look out at you.
And my uncertainty disappears. And my anxiety melts away. And I am no longer afraid.
In fact, when I look at you, I feel great confidence about our future as a nation.
And I want you to feel the same about yourselves. I want you to head out into this world with your eyes straight ahead, with your head up, with confidence, with swagger.
Yes, you will struggle. But you will persevere. Yes, you will stumble. But you will get back up. How do I know that? Because you’ve already done it!
Because just to get to this point, just to walk across this stage right here, you have already shown how great you are.
And in case that isn’t enough to convince you, in case there are any non-believers or doubters in the house tonight, how about this? Not only are you walking across this stage, but you are doing it with a plan to go to college or pursue a career.
In fact, I am very proud to announce here for the first time the Classical High School Class of 2017 has earned over 18.6 million dollars in college scholarship and grant offers. $18.6 MILLION!
In college, that’s what they call … a lot of Ramen noodles.
And no one gave that to you. You earned it. You have earned it through hard work and great character. That greatness that lies within each and every one of you will see you through whatever lies ahead.
So yes, congratulations, Class of 2017. But more importantly, thank you. Thank you for all that you’ve done. Thank you for all that you are going to do. And thank you for giving me confidence about the future of the United States of America.