by Aidan Cazeau, Class of 2020
Lakeside Upper School Student Government President Aidan Cazeau delivered the following speech at Commencement 2020.
First, thank you to the Class of 2020 for being my very large second family and for always only ever showing me love. Thank you to all of the parents and guardians for raising such gosh darn good kids. Thank you to all the teachers, faculty, and staff for making Lakeside my second home. Elda Kahssay, Maxine Reyes, and Eugenie Park, thank you for all your work in Student Government this year; Lakeside really does have four presidents. Mr. McKinley, if you somehow manage to watch this speech, thank you for showing me the arithmetic of leadership. Dr. Wright, thanks for being a second mom. Michael Place, thank you for the heels, the lashes, and the confidence. Ms. Maiorano, thanks for always telling me I can. CJ, thank you for teaching me how to have a big heart. Alban Dennis, how lucky am I to call myself a student of Alban Dennis. Thank you for believing in me. And thanks to so many more. You know who you are, and I will most certainly come find you as soon as I can when things go back to normal.
Dear senior class,
To be honest, I struggled to write this speech — the mother of all presidential speeches. I worked on it not expecting to ever get the chance to share it. For all I knew, no one would ever hear these words, or even read them. Then again, saying goodbye has never been easy for me. I kept writing because I believe there is power in using our voices. On the off chance that things went back to normal and the universe decided to grace me with the gift of speaking to all of my classmates, teachers, mentors, and family, I’d at least know where to start.
Sometimes our favorite stories end on cliffhangers. It is when, unbeknownst to anyone, the stakes are at their highest – a.k.a. when we have the most to lose. It has been challenging for me to remember my last day on campus, but I can recall what came next with ease. In the span of days our grade was once again forced by circumstance to grow up. Would we see our friends again? Would we get a proper goodbye? What would the centennial Class of 2020 be remembered for?
What I’ve learned is that dangling from a cliff invites revelation. The moments of tiding and joy I had gained during my Lakeside experience grew in significance because of their absence in the present. The same idea goes for today. Now is not when I’ll cherish this experience the most. It might be tonight. It might be tomorrow. It could be when I’m in the thick of college courses, or applying for a job, or meeting a new friend. I know it will be when I’m sad, or lonely, or when I’m feeling defeated. I’ve learned that it’s in the smallest and most unlikely pockets of our lives where we’ll recollect the fruits of Lakeside the most. The very reason we have memory is for reflection. Yes, our senior year was cut short, but memories were made. Lakeside is in our blood.
As for our grade, I would say we’re like a rainbow because of how we embody the concept of rebirth. It rains and it pours on us. And yet we always return to reality stronger and more beautiful. Despite the pressure, COVID, the drama — all that stormy weather — the Class of 2020 has touched so many people. At the start of the year I was so proud to call our grade the centennial Class of 2020. It was a marker of worth and of meaning. In my self-consciousness, I told myself I was allowed to love our grade and celebrate our accomplishments even more because we were the 100th graduating class. Well, today I’m here to tell you that this marker is an achievement for the school and unnecessary for our grade.
Love is such a complex thing. The moment we feel it, our subconsciousness goes, “Not yet. You haven’t earned it yet. You haven’t made up for the way you’ve acted. Look at what you’ve done.” I talk about self-love so much because it’s something we all struggle with because we’re human. The fact that a rainbow can just materialize after a storm is inherently beautiful. The fact that so many underclassmen can look up to us as role models is also beautiful. The fact that all of us came from different paths — different walks of life — and all ended up here graduating together is inherently beautiful and needs no justification. I haven’t got all the answers figured out. I just hope that today you celebrate because our class deserves to be loved.
Don’t get me wrong, though: We’re not special. For a while, I was under the assumption that there were two kinds of people in life: the rare few who embodied excellence and the ones who watched. However, excellence is not reserved for the small sum who get to be on TV. We’re all the same in that we all have a choice. We can either wait for others to tell us we’re great, or we can decide to tell ourselves to be great.
To me, brilliance is not a gift we receive, but one we dish out. Now, it’s time for us to turn the page. The way we decide to step into adulthood will affect the future. I believe Lakeside has given us two initial steps as we move into the next years of our life. The first is to give thanks. It was taking classes at this school when I first acknowledged there are people in this world with nothing. Nothing, to the point that none of us can really even comprehend. Maintaining gratitude in my everyday life has helped me recognize my privilege and has allowed me to be able to work for causes bigger than myself.
The second step is to dare. As a young person looking at the news and at the state of the world, I see a lot of division and pain. Social media allows us to peek at what we’re afraid of — inequality, violence, poverty — but I realize now that we have to face the things that scare us. Silence is easy because it doesn’t cost us anything. Activism should be spiritually expensive because it’s predicated on how much we give in service of others. I know that this will be our job; your job; my job. To pay it forward; to act.
I’d like to end on the idea of change. For example, today our lives will change. A graduation is also a commencement — a beginning and an end. It insinuates constant movement. I believe this aspect of rebirth makes it something our class specializes in. A movement, however, is social change accomplished through leadership and teamwork. It insinuates forward direction. Equality, acceptance, justice, and love. My belief is that we will be the ones who orchestrate movements of that magnitude, and it won’t come from one outlier of greatness. Let the journey commence of changing the world together. It’s been an honor to be your student body president. And with that, to the centennial class, to the Class of 2020, to my very large second family, thank you and I love you.