2018 Senior Speech -- Nick Wessman
Our Final Supplement
Ah, senior year. A year filled with everything that many of us have looked forward to our entire lives. The haunted house. Talent show. Prom. Graduation. And, of course, let’s not forget: college. As senior year begins, college is fast-approaching. It’s time for you to finally focus up and accept the ever-so daunting challenge presented by college applications. It usually goes something like this: You sit down at your computer. Forget your Common App password a few times… and try again in a few weeks. When you finally do come back, you wander around aimlessly a bit, and then finally, you start to narrow down your search. Figure out your top schools. Maybe pick a favorite! For the first time, you’re actually getting excited about college, and then!!!!... Supplements. You’re sitting there looking at the screen, absolutely freaking out, in an intense staring contest with dozens upon dozens upon millions of shockingly generic questions - questions that somehow manage to simultaneously be totally identical and also terribly different. “Tell us in X many words why our school is the only school for you!” “What makes you unique?” “Tell us about your community!” These questions paraphrased infinitely to the point where they become more and more unrecognizable.
Looking back on it though, it’s hit me that I definitely I didn’t appreciate or do enough justice to that last one. I don’t remember the prompts word for word, but the gist was always this: “Talk about your community. Tell us how your community has helped you in your life. What, exactly, does your community mean to you?” The first things that come to mind are the obvious ones. Pelham is a safe environment, a great place to have a family, there are lots of pizzerias… and of course, there’s access exceptional public education that set you up for a successful future. Naturally, I wrote about wanting to give back to a community that has given me such fantastic opportunities. And I felt this when I wrote it, I really did. And I still continue to. However, today my feelings have evolved. Then, I appreciated Pelham. Today, I am genuinely inspired by Pelham. I would like to share why.
A lot can change in three weeks. I only submitted early applications, so for me, everything was in by November 1st, including those pesky supplements I just went on about. November 19th. The curtain had just closed on Sock ‘n’ Buskin’s Fools!, my last drama performance ever at PMHS. I got off stage and did what I’d done for years - looked for my parents. This time, though, I couldn’t find them - they were nowhere to be seen. Odd. I soon received a text from my mom, telling me that my dad, who’d been struggling with back pain, was “in a lot of pain every time he moved,” so she thought she’d take him to the Emergency Room just to be safe. “There goes Dad with his middle-aged back again,” I convinced myself. I guess that was the most convenient conclusion to make - I was simply worried about whether I had a ride to the cast party.
I came home to an empty house that night. Hours and hours went by, and every minute made me more anxious. In fact, I didn’t see either of them until after school the next afternoon. My first interaction with my mom was as she cried, telling me that Dad had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer, which until extremely recently, I soon learnedwas effectively a guaranteed death sentence. My first encounter with my dad was about half an hour later in the hospital, as he held me close and told me everything was going to be okay. It all seemed so surreal. For so long, so much had been taken for granted - my Dad’s health, his ability to see me into adult life and to be a grandparent, his presence at college move-in day, graduation… everything. I sat there that day imagining a life without my dad there to see me through it, and I couldn’t do it. I was truly in shock.
So… when faced with emergencies, tragedies, and hardships such as this, what is there to do? Give into it? Get depressed? Lose hope? Those are usually the easiest options, and believe me, it’s an understatement to say that it was tempting at times. This is a position that we as humans often find ourselves in, and I don’t think I’d be off-base if I said that most of the audience has been here, grappling with whether to push forward… or to crumble. I know that personally, I couldn’t give in - I couldn’t because there was something simply wouldn’t let me. And that “something” was Pelham, New York. The hard times that my family and I faced were instantly combated by unquantifiable amounts of love from our community - this community. It is unbelievable how much strength there is in the love, support, and faith of a town as small as Pelham. I am sure that many of you sitting here today know the strength that I am speaking of. I am not exaggerating when I say that within days of my father’s diagnosis, it seemed as though the entire world had united to help him and to help my family. For the months that followed, dozens of families, some of whom just knew us through Rec Soccer or Cub Scouts, brought us meals every single night; meals that helped my mom keep her sanity in a time where trips to Sloan-Kettering in the city were anything but predictable: a time when it was hard to stay grounded. The staff at the school did everything they could to make such a hard time easier on me, and for that I owe my teachers the world. There’s nothing quite as comforting as being called out of class because I am “needed in the Bridge Room” and being met by Mrs. Connolly holding a plate of cake and a soda, simply wanting to talk to me. This is just one of the dozens of acts of kindness that have kept me going, and my teachers and counselors are still constantly checking up to me this day. Our friends and neighbors were always here for me and my family, whether it was at short notice to carry my dad down the stairs, to make trips to the hospital, to be a shoulder to cry on, or simply, to keep us company.
Recent studies suggest that “a bright outlook can play a major role” in how someone responds cancer treatments, and I believe this wholeheartedly. My dad is here with us all today to watch me graduate from high school, and most importantly, there isn’t a doubt that he has so much more life to live. How do I know this? Because an entire community came together for a single family out of the kindness of their hearts, and this has given us all the brightest outlook of all.
So, if you all would humor me, I’d like to come full circle. I think we all should write one final supplemental essay here today. Our prompt? “Talk about your community. Tell us how your community has helped you in your life. What, exactly, does your community mean to you?”
Pelham, New York, is a place where people will never put themselves first - a place where an entire community will come together if it means to help an individual. A place where we all can count on our neighbors to support us, especially in our hardest times. Pelham represents love, community and selflessness, and Pelham has shown us all how we should live our lives. That is what our community means to us.
So thank you, Pelham, New York, on behalf of anyone in this community who has faced tragedy and hardship. You have been here for us in times of trouble, and your continued love and support has been what’s kept us going. Class of 2018, congratulations - we’re graduating from Pelham Memorial High School and heading off into the world to do bigger and better things. But we must always remember Pelham, and most importantly, never stop carrying with us the selflessness that it represents. Carry it with you throughout your life, in college and well beyond - it truly can have more of an impact than you could ever imagine. Thank you.