The amount of speeches that people have heard from graduates are uncountable. There are numerous graduating classes across the country and world listening to a single person talk. This person in the eyes of many, is at the top. I, however, don’t feel as if I deserve to be viewed as that, whether you do or not. All I feel is that I have the opportunity to say something that needs to be said.

This year’s class of 2021 stands out amongst the years upon years of graduating classes before us. We had our lives swept out from underneath us with no warning. We didn’t get a normal junior and senior year. For most of last year, none of us knew what was going to happen the next month, next week, or even the next day. Our whole world and future was uncertain.

So here we are in the middle of what is supposed to be a defining time in our lives constantly worried about whether or not we’ll be stuck in our houses for much longer or if our families are going to be safe. We went so long being unable to see and hug the ones we loved. Humans thrive around each other and all of a sudden our face-to-face interactions were nearly nonexistent. One thing rings through all of that: we’ve held strong, dealt with what we got, and made it to this moment despite the most unlikely of situations trying to tear us apart.

On days like today at graduation ceremonies, all we see are the happiest parts of everyone’s high school experiences. We see photos of students at memorable events with loving friends, family and classmates. Basically, what we show today are the parts of our lives that we do want to remember, but what we don’t show are the parts of all high school students’ lives that we would rather forget.

As I know is also the case with my peers, I got broken down and torn apart many times. There are countless moments where I just wanted to give up. I struggled with purpose and motivation, perhaps more than the average person does. Last summer, I lost a teammate to suicide. The ripple effect of her death stung everyone around me so much that at times I could physically feel the pain radiating and lingering within my team and the people I cared about. Around the same time, I struggled with similar mental health issues. Because of that, I took part of the responsibility for her death on myself because I truly understood where she was in her last moments. Because of my inaction, I felt as if I was to blame for this heart-wrenching thing that broke so many people around me.

After months of wrestling with what-ifs, I learned that the moments in life that are meant to break us can be the reason we come alive. Standing here now, I’m able to tell myself and everyone else that if you get back on your feet, you can get to where you never thought you would be.

If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that we can’t control what happens to us, but we can get back up, no matter how many times we fall down. There were times that I didn’t think I could get back up, but I had teachers, coaches, parents and friends supporting me, wiping my tears and giving me a hand to stand up when I couldn’t get up on my own because they believed that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to, even when I didn’t believe it myself.

Our world doesn’t look the same as it did a year and a half ago; everyone’s changed a little bit in their own ways because of it. But there’s one good change that I’ve seen. It’s that we learned that it’s okay to not be okay. Life’s not perfect; from this point on, our struggles only begin. We’re all heading so many different directions after this day is over, but one truth will stick with us wherever we are. As long as you have a community like this one walking by your side and helping you back up after you fall, you’ll end up right where you need to be.

Michaela Main is the valedictorian of the Lake County High School Class of 2021. Main will attend Colorado School of Mines in the fall.

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