An Unsung Graduation Speech
by Theo Lebryk (Class of '15)
On the first day of the second semester, my teacher posed a question for the class: would you send your kids to Stuart?
Now if I asked the same question to all of you, I’d imagine that a fair share of you would shake your heads. At very least, you’d have to take some time to think about it.
And I think you might be right. Senior apathy is a natural occurring phenomena, but with our school, the arguments for why “Stuart sucks” run too deep to be ignored. We get random prank fire alarms. We have a truancy problem. We still haven’t won a Conference championship in any sport. We’re among the last in the county in average SAT scores, graduation rate and SOL scores.
Losing, it would seem, is embedded in the school’s DNA. Failure is our forte, tragedy our trademark.
But then I remember the student who lives in the basement of someone else’s home with his single mother, a mother who doesn’t know about things like Questbridge or Common App. However, this student goes to a school that does and more importantly, he goes to a school that cares. Through this school that cares, this student was identified as one of the most brilliant students in the school and was given the tools to obtain the Questbridge Scholarship and a full ride to one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
I remember the student who walks home 20 minutes after track practice and takes an ice shower to recover from practice and to toughen himself up. I remember how odd this thought is because this kid has no reason to make himself tougher: he’s endured the difficulties of moving into a new country without knowing the language or culture well. When he was a freshman, he stalwartly endured the loss of his father to cancer. He’s endured the pressure of being the fastest runner at the school when you can tell by nature he’d rather be out of the spotlight. He’s endured the social pressure of being the only black kid in his higher level math class. And while he’s endured all that, he still wants to get tougher, to become better at all costs because, as he says, he can’t let the sacrifices of his parents, teachers, and counselors be worthless.
I remember walking through the hallways after 9:00 pm and seeing the theatre kids working well into the night for “hell week.” While getting home from school after 9:00 would seem like a terrible task for some, there’s one among the theatre troupe that does just that nearly everyday, hell week or not, so she can pursue her passions as dancer, singer, or actor. And though she does all that, on the side she still has time to maintain A’s, every single quarter, in every single class. And despite the hectic, stressful nature of the life she lives, she doesn’t complain, pout or sleep in class. No, in fact, anyone who has ever interacted with her will tell you she is the most outgoing person around.
I remember the former administrator who worked thankless hours on weekends, holidays, and snow days to launch a math remediation program to boost SOL scores. I remember the math teachers who stay after school or come in on Saturday mornings to make sure their kids are as best prepared as possible for SOLs. And side by side with the kids studying for their Algebra I SOL are the dutiful souls from IB Math HL and IB World History, grueling through an optional Saturday morning study session.
And from the image of the math teacher who came to teach us on Saturday mornings, flows the memory of all the teachers: from the English teacher who took the time to write pages worth of comments on each and every student’s essays and attempted to inspire all of them to become better versions of themselves, to the government teacher who has done everything in his power to give an equal opportunity to those who need it. These men and women who were my personal heroes come rushing back to me.
And I know that these stories that I saw were a part of a larger whole and there are hundreds more just like mine.
These are the things we will remember when we look back at what Stuart was to us, not our average SAT score or graduation rate.
So, should we ever face the question of whether or not to send our children to our alma mater, hypothetically or otherwise, I implore you to remember the stories. I don’t know about you all, but I’m perfectly content with watching my kid walk out of my door and into the wonderful world of J.E.B. Stuart High School. Because only there can we see the meaning of the Shakespeare line, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”