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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 3, 2020 8 months ago

The First Academy valedictorian's speech: Katie Campbell

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TFA. As we close this chapter and enter the next, I encourage you to never underestimate the power you have to make an impact.

By Katie Campbell

Hello, Class of 2020, families, friends, teachers, faculty and staff. It is my sincere honor and pleasure to be here before you today. Before I begin, I would first like to give my thanks to some of the individuals who have helped make this possible for me. I want to first thank the amazing teachers who have guided me and my classmates throughout this four-year journey. Among these, I would like to thank Ms. Pierre Louis, Mrs. Markowitz, Ms. Penny, Ms. De La Fe, Mr. Harrison, Dr. Toenges, Mrs. Oswald and so many more for not only being incredible teachers but a constant encouragement. 

I would also like to thank my grandparents for always inspiring me to pursue my education fully and devotedly. I also say thank you to my hardworking and caring parents, who have guided and uplifted me. And, lastly, I would like to thank my friends, who have loved and supported me, and most notably my sister, Kinsey, who is my best friend. 

It seems like just moments ago I was that bright-eyed fourth-grader who had just moved to Orlando and was beginning my first year at TFA. I was a kid who was beyond excited to learn; I would be the only 9-year-old who was eager to have their grandpa, thank you, Grandpa Sam, take them to the bookstore in the summer to buy math workbooks for fun. Yes, I said math. Yes, I said summer. And yes, I said fun. That innocence and hunger for knowledge accompanied me throughout my childhood and that first year at TFA. 

One of the things that I remember about that year was the friendly competition we would have to see who could recite The First Academy mission statement the best. We did this so often that it has become ingrained into our minds, and most of us could probably even recall it right now: “The First Academy is a college preparatory school whose mission is to prepare children for life as Christian leaders who choose character before career, wisdom beyond scholarship, service before self, and participation as a way of life.” We could say this forwards and backwards. (“Life of way a as participation and self.” You get the point.) But as we matured and grew, and particularly within these last few months, its meaning has become much more real to us. 

Many of us today are experiencing a myriad of emotions and feelings. We are excited to leave this chapter behind us and are looking towards the future; we are eager for the future to come but may be doubtful or fearful about all of the uncertainties that come with it. We knew that it would be inevitable to experience these mixed feelings, but with the state of our world right now, it might make us even more apprehensive. But rather than letting the world around us discourage or intimidate us into fear or inaction, we look at the future through a new and unique lens. 

Our own mission statement first tells us to choose “character before career.” In this pandemic, the world has grown to truly appreciate all of the workers who are helping us fight through this time. From the very essential workers, such as our teachers, front-line medical workers and service industry employees, to the leaders trying to solve both medical and economic challenges, an unprecedented amount of character and selflessness has been valued far above mere career. To all of these individuals putting the world’s needs above their own, we offer our endless gratitude and look to them as models for our own career aspirations. 

We next take a look at “wisdom beyond scholarship.” As we enter not only into the real world but into a world of uncertainty, we should turn to wisdom rather than mere knowledge. Throughout this pandemic, many of us have gone back to some of the things we had taken for granted and have gained new wisdom that we can take with us wherever we go. We have begun to spend more time with our families and appreciate the simpler things, such as rediscovering how to play Mario Kart or attempting to cook. We have taught ourselves patience, peace and perseverance. Though this time has been a great challenge, we are learning from it every day in a way that prepares us more for our futures. 

“Service before self and participation as a way of life” is perhaps the most profound takeaway we can have from our recent experiences. As we go to college and pursue our careers, we will be constantly trying new things, discovering our passions, and figuring out who we truly are and what we want from life. In finding our place in the world, it can be easy to get wrapped up in our own lives and interests, but these times have emphasized the importance of channeling our passions in a way that serves and betters the lives of others. We are also presently reminded that no contribution is too small. In the next phase of our lives, we should remember this and never doubt the potential we have to help and change the world, our communities, or even one life. 

I would lastly like to leave you with both a quote from Albert Einstein and a Scriptural verse. Einstein said, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” When surrounded by adversity, we are given the opportunity to reach outside of ourselves and touch the lives of others. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

Seniors, I thank you for the incredible year we’ve had together. From the Senior Retreat at the beginning of the year to the last moments we had together at Breckenridge, we have created so many lasting bonds and have made amazing memories here at TFA. As we close this chapter and enter the next, I encourage you to never underestimate the power you have to make an impact.

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