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I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now

AHS graduation speeches

Belen Sanchez Mathews, vice president of the Class of 2024, was an honors speaker at the school's commencement. 

Good afternoon family, friends, faculty and the graduating Class of 2024.

It’s a privilege to be able to address you all on this memorable day and share some of the sage wisdom I’ve gained during my time in high school. Well, by “sage wisdom,” I mean three words: "I don’t know." Despite long nights studying calculus and hours dedicated to writing English essays, learning to embrace this one phrase — "I don’t know" — is the most valuable lesson I’ve gained.

We entered high school as intimidated freshmen, trying to integrate ourselves into the unfamiliar life of a high school student and using our knowledge from High School Musical and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to shape our idyllic expectations of the next four years.

Despite our best efforts, there was a lot we didn’t know. We tried to conceal it, of course: sneaking our phones under our desks to look up homework answers, asking anonymous questions about our personal lives on @ahsmrhsconfess, and wandering the halls trying to find a new classroom without asking anyone.

Ultimately, it’s frustrating to admit our cluelessness, as it proves we may not be as independent as we once thought. Whether a complex math concept, a confusing new play in a sports game or a discordant chord in unfamiliar music, confessing our lack of understanding is no easy task. However, doing so is not admitting defeat; rather, it is a testament to our determination and an investment in our future success.

In acknowledging our own shortcomings, we open ourselves to a community ready and willing to support us. In this act of asking for help, we achieve scientific breakthroughs with complex math concepts, we prove victorious with flawlessly executed plays and we create symphonies with glorious harmonies.

The ability to say “I don’t know” is a uniquely human ability. Engineers admit that the language-learning models of AI engines don’t know how to say “I don’t know”: They will always provide an answer, even if false. The vulnerability of not knowing is a part of the human experience; our imperfection gives us empathy and room to grow.

Graduating seniors, as we continue onto our next steps, welcome the discomfort of not knowing. Despite our 13 years of formal education, we’re still learning from our teachers, from our coaches, conductors, mentors, families and most important, from each other.

I’m not perfect. I’ve cried, I’ve missed deadlines, I’ve failed tests, I’ve made incorrect assumptions, and I make mistakes every hour of every day. However, honesty in the fact that we don’t know it all is the gateway to asking difficult questions, to challenging our perspectives, to improving as global citizens, and to leaning on the incredible Arlington community seated around us.

From the retired voice of @ponderpride and @ahs2024futureplans, huge dubs today, and I’m so proud of us all. Thank you. 

This viewpoint was published Sunday, June 2, 2024.

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