Margaret Scognamiglio’s graduation speech

MARGARET SCOGNAMIGLIO, “THE CLIMB”

JUNE 24, 2017

Good morning, friends, family, faculty and staff. Take a breathe and relax – you did it. Today is the day we’ve been waiting for since our first day of kindergarten.

So relax your shoulders and fill your lungs to their capacity, breathe out nice and slow

Turn to your neighbor and give them a crisp high-five. (clap)

To the Scotia Glenville staff, who has been our guide for the past 12 odd years, Thank you. You have made so many sacrifices in the name of our education. And although times were trying, you remained grounded. And for that, we are forever grateful.

To our family and friends, both present and not, it truly does take a village to raise a child.  Thank you for your unconditional support and love-even if we don’t share the same last name.

Imagine this. You are at the trailhead of a mountain. A mountain that is unfamiliar to you, but you have climbed ones just like it. You calm your nervous heartbeat by repeating to yourself, “I have this under my control. I’ve done it before. I have it in me.”

The earth around you has just begun to exhibit signs of an early, and warm spring. The flowery vegetation blossoms, greeting you with the most exquisite shades of green. The warm, gentle breeze kisses your cheek, and puts a pep in your anxious step.

You hold your head high, and you begin to climb. The first half goes O.K- you’re fresh and ready for more. With each step comes a new opportunity to succeed. To push farther. To test the limits of the human spirit – to defy the odds of what is considered to be ordinary. Hands out, sweat glistening on your brow. As you continue to climb.

Not much later, you notice the aching of your joints. You notice your parched throat, and the sunburn eating at your skin. You grow tired, weary, and begin to question your ability to climb. Not much later, the sky turns to an ominous shade of gray, and clouds your thoughts with shades of uncertainty. You trip on a root, and scrape your knee. You lie down, as the sky begins to open. You weep with the clouds at your temporary defeat. You decide that the thought of walking one more mile, is the sheer definition of the impossible.

You’re done. It’s over.

As you begin to make up your mind to turn back. There is a small, resilient voice that nags in your head. It hounds and harasses you, and you can feel it right above your temple. You can feel it in the place where you put unimportant, yet painfully necessary information – The phone number to your favorite pizza place, your third grade teacher’s last name and the formula to calculate the gravitational attraction of the earth. However, this voice has a different ring to it. It is voice of defiance. It whispers into your ear quiet enough to only be audible to your own mind, But loud enough that it echoes through your soul like a church bell in an empty auditorium. “You can do this,” it whispers.

Your muscles scream in a chorused rebellion as you begin to lift yourself from the earth. Hundreds of trails seem to appear before you, each offering the path of least resistance. But the voice you’re listening to is directing your tired boots to the steepest, rockiest, and longest path. It whispers to you to keep your head up. And keep your mind open- because we’ve got work to do.”

After what seems to be an eternity of uphill battles, falls, scrapes, blood and tears-You hoist yourself to the peak with what little energy you have left. You are met with the sunrise of a new day. The kind of sunrise that washes the entire earth with a pink-orange glow. It cleanses your soul as you bend over to pick a single wild Iris bud from the earth Place it to your nose and inhale. You made it. But this is just the first step.

What I am trying to tell you, my friends, is this will not be your only mountain. Each of our mountains will be different as we move through this incredible journey of life. Each as equally monstrous, terrifying, treacherous. But at the same time beautifully complex, rewarding, and fulfilling.

We made it up this mountain. We did not falter to the storm. We stood tall against the rain. We did not know when the rain would end, or when the sun would return. But marching on we kept our wings to the sky and our hearts and minds ablaze-Constantly wanting more, doing more, being more.

Let yourself be filled with the wondrous resilience of the human spirit. With each new day, ask yourself, “how can I make the climb easier for those around me?” Offer a helping hand to those who need it most. For each of our mountains, although they are unalike, all share the same winding uphill paths diverging into the great unknown.

Sometimes, someone falls to the mercy of the mountain. In the midst of crisis, allow them to rest their weary head on your tired shoulder. Ease their pain with words of kindness, tolerance, and understanding. Take note not the color of their skin, the shape of their body, or the language that dances on their tongue. More so, take note of the content of their character. And the compassion behind their ribcage. Open your heart to those who surround you.
Because during the Climb, we are all the same. We are all exposed to Mother Nature’s unpredictable, and often cruel play of choice. We are all pelted with rain, snow, sleet, and hail. We are all one during the Climb. It is our destinations that make us individuals.

We have peaked the first mountain. We have overcome our fears, celebrated our diversity. And conquered our differences. But, there is no time for rest. Because this is the Climb. So take a drink, catch your breath, and retie your shoes. Because we’ve got work to do.

And as poet Daya Nandan wrote- “Rise above clouds of doubt and unleash your potential. Keep courage and persistence for those are essential. Take the risks needed but minimize them by planning. And before you know it, the game of life you will be winning.”

Graduates, take each day as a new opportunity to succeed. Use your knowledge and kindness to better not only yourself, but the minds and hearts that surround you. Do not be afraid to listen to the voice of resilience. For it will lead you down the most untraveled road. But to the peak of success and prosperity. We were raised to persist. We are lions in a field of lions, all fighting for the same prize. So take what is yours. Fight like hell. And never look back.

Thank you again for this opportunity to represent the Class of 2017. May you go forth from these doors and never forget your roots. From which your tree of life is planted. Words cannot express my gratitude for the faculty and staff- You have led us to our mountain.

And now it is our turn to climb.

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