2018 Senior Speech -- Hanna Mackay
Good morning everyone, my name is Hannah Mackay and I am honored to be one of your graduation speakers. Now I know these things usually impart some kind of knowledge to audiences, leaving you with words of wisdom to percolate through your head for the rest of the day, but honestly most of us here have spent the last four years in this building having knowledge and ideas imparted onto us. So instead, I’m going to take the exact opposite approach, and talk about what we don’t know.
As some of you may recall, I am often caught cluelessly trying to figure out what in the world is happening by asking, “Wait...what?” In fact, my nickname at the homecoming pep rally sophomore year was, Hannah “wait what?” Mackay. Now if you assume I have absolutely no clue what’s going on, you’re definitely right. But that’s ok, because, as I have come to realize, no one does, and those who claim to are simply deluding themselves. As high schoolers, we may act confident, especially as seniors, but no one is truly certain about what they are doing or why. Despite our academic achievements, I know many of us will continue to be heedless of what’s going on through college and the rest of our lives.
We live in the information age, yet so many of us are content to just accept knowledge and instruction at face value. This simple act of inquiry, asking a question, marks the antithesis of complacency. It’s the key to a life full of insight, self-awareness and yes, a little pain. Now I know that sounds super corny, and most of us, myself included, would be content with a life that simply escapes boredom and procrastination. But once you take the time to stop and think, and even doubt, the world is opened up to you. We must become comfortable with the fact that no one - our leaders, our teachers, our parents and especially ourselves - has all the answers. However, as graduates of Pelham Memorial High School I know we all have the capacity to learn, and as we go out into the world we are obligated to use it. I mean that’s really why we’re here, to ask questions, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of them deemed “unanswerable”. The truth is we rarely know what’s going on and navigating through life requires not only asking the right questions, but demanding answers, answers to questions raised by Parkland, Florida, Cambridge Analytica, Kilauea, and an avalanche of disturbing headlines.
The way I see it, there are three types of people. First there are those who passively accept the status quo, not bothering to question, simply following the leader. Think back to yourselves as freshmen, I know, it’s traumatic for me too. Most of us enter high school like sheep, following the examples and rules set by the rather terrifying upperclassmen and faculty. Trying your best to fit in, not be too annoying or weird, and most of all being completely consumed by what everyone else thinks, all classic freshmen dilemmas that facilitate you sort of just going along with the crowd.
Then there are those who blindly assume that they are always correct, also without bothering to question themselves. We have all seen the dangers of this attitude, as no one should simply assume an Olympics victory is guaranteed, no matter what grade you are. And the truth is that this is the epitome of ignorance. Fields of study, of education, don’t exist in isolation and neither should we. I spent the past two summers working in a research lab and have seen firsthand that no discovery or breakthrough comes from a single mind, no matter how brilliant. They come when people are willing to take the unconventional approach, question information taken as fact, and assist each other to understand the complex manifestations of today’s problems - medical, environmental, social or political.
Now as we graduate, we all have the ability and the mandate to become questioners. As the class of 2018, we will inherit a world that is far from perfect. Over the course of our short high school careers alone, the world has faced health epidemics, refugee crises, revolutions as far away as Aleppo and as close to home as New York City, the truth of our nations free press has been called into question as climate anomalies and terror attacks are becoming more and more commonplace every day. In just our senior year there has been a federal government shutdown, Elon Musk launched a tesla into space, leaders of North and South Korea met for the first time in more than a decade and over 20 school shootings have resulted in the deaths of students just like us in classrooms across America. I know that this laundry list of issues is daunting enough to overwhelm most, but, as graduating seniors, instead of merely begging the question, “wait, what?”, we must challenge ourselves and ask, “wait, what can we do?”. Alexander Fleming saved millions of lives by rejecting prevailing dogmas and using mold to create penicillin. We owe the universal law of gravitation to Newton, who was willing to question why the apple fell to the earth. It makes you wonder why anyone would choose to simply follow others’ dictums...probably because it is in many ways easier in the short term follow the beaten path. After all, more time for Netflix and social media that way. Questions require active thinking, analysis, and discussion. All of this demands commitment and energy so sitting back and watching will not cut it. Here at Pelham students shine, be it on the stage, the field, the rink, in the band or chorus or any manner of competition from science research to forensic speech. We are molded by our mentors to lead and to never stop questioning, no matter what the future holds as it is in our hands. Good luck to everyone, I challenge you all to follow our dreams, but remember that it’s ok to have no clue what’s going on, so long as you ask.