ETHS senior Samara Wilson addresses the crowd at Sunday morning’s commencement ceremony. Credit: ETHS District 202 YouTube

At Sunday morning’s Evanston Township High School commencement ceremony, senior Samara Wilson delivered the senior class remarks. Students interested in speaking at each spring’s graduation must submit their writing, poem or musical selection, and Wilson earned the honor of speaking on behalf of the Class of 2022. Here is the text of her speech, which you can also view at the 51-minute mark of this video.

Hello graduates, families, friends, faculty and staff. What a privilege it is for me to stand before you today, and what a great day to be a Wildkit.

My name is Samara Wilson, and I am one of you. I transferred to ETHS this year from Jones College Prep in Chicago. I remember my first days of attending ETHS, I was scared, anticipating something, anything to go wrong. Despite these negative feelings, I felt like those typical, high school movie, teenage protagonists, where they move to a new town and become super popular at school until they make friends with the antagonists, and everyone hates them.

Luckily, and unluckily, that was not my fate. I fell straight into my studies, slowly becoming known by my peers as a writer, artist and thinker. There was no romantic interest to save me from losing myself. The hard truth was that high school was not like the movies. There was no single protagonist, no typical story arc with the rising or falling action, no pillow fights or ghost stories with your friends and no Zac Efron. It’s truly devastating.

And on top of that, we endured not one, but two years of a global pandemic, which I’ll save the sob stories of repetitive narratives of “unprecedented times” for another day.

We were forced to grow up and face the reality of civil and political unrest, global health crises, wars, climate change and the unlearning of harmful narratives passed down from our society. The final years of our childhood were challenging, to say the least, but we persevered, and we did it together.

However, there is a harder truth that our generation is learning more and more every day. We need to do more than just persevere. It isn’t enough to endure the challenges we face. We need to conquer them, change the systems set in place to put us down and create alternatives to the enforced ways of life. It’s our job to make the abnormal normal.

I’m extremely grateful to Evanston Township for teaching me how to be a proactive member of society and reigniting my love for learning. ETHS has not only allowed me to meet people with similar aspirations, but it has also given me hope and pride in my generation. ETHS students don’t just tolerate change. We initiate it. ETHS gave me the spaces and resources I needed to be unapologetically myself as a queer, Black female, something that I wish I had many, many years ago.

Attending this remarkable school has solidified my path toward becoming a certified art therapist at Hampshire College in the fall, and I’m grateful to all the teachers and staff who made the post-high school planning process as bearable as possible. From food and menstrual drives, to climate conferences, ETHS students are the true leaders and go-getters.

We all know that change isn’t easy. It requires incredible sacrifice and a thorough understanding of self. Much of my high school experience has been characterized by struggle. I suffered from intense anxiety and depression from seventh grade up until last year. I never thought that I would even make it to graduation. It has taken me years to understand my identity and grow to love the complex person that I am.

I know many of you went through or are currently going through similar struggles, and I commend you for doing the hard work that many adults still don’t dare to do. I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of you.

I may not have known most of you since freshmen year, but I had the pleasure of meeting some of you and watching you grow into sensational human beings within just 10 months. I see in front of me future doctors, civil engineers, architects, visual artists, dancers, social workers, athletes and entrepreneurs. All of us will change this world, no matter how big or small.

That’s the beautiful thing about change: a kind smile and a hug can create just as significant a change as a new law or new building. Everything that you do matters. Your existence matters. Regardless of what struggles you may have been through or subjected to, they got you here, hours away from becoming a high school graduate. Life is funny like that.

As we go our separate ways to do bigger and better things, I implore you to move confidently through the unknown. If it isn’t obvious already, I love poetry, and my favorite poem I’ve ever read is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. You probably don’t know who he is. He’s super underground.

Anyway, my favorite stanza is “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence: / Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

In this season of growth and change, of leaving behind the old and embracing the new, I encourage you to take the road less traveled, to do what others are afraid to do. After all, this is your life to live. Growing up is, in some ways, formidable to all of us. We’ll have to do our own taxes, cook for ourselves and set up our own doctor’s appointments, all of which we would prefer not to do.

But, as I said before, these past few years have prepared us for what’s to come, and I know that better days are awaiting all of us, with more freedom, more authenticity, more curiosity and more engagement with the endless world around us. If there is anything these past few years have taught us, it is that we are much stronger and much more capable than we think we are.

Wherever your future takes you, whether it’s college, the workforce or wherever your imagination beckons you to go, walk confidently down that road less traveled and be the change the world needs, no matter how big or small.

Congratulations to you all, and thank you.

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  1. This young lady is an awesome writer! I hung on her every word. Through creative twist, she took the reader on a journey that even though you knew the eventual destination, the commute was amazing!

  2. Nothing “super underground” about Robert Frost!
    But that’s the charm of youth.
    She’ll learn.

  3. What a wonderful insightful talk! It gives me great hope for our future. As a parent of three “long time ago” graduates from ETHS, it makes me proud of the school’s continued place in the development of our students’ potential.

  4. That was beautiful. Thank you and congratulations for what you have achieved and have set forth for yourself and others to take on. My best wishes for a promising new journey.
    Constance Porteous

  5. My favorite poem also. The road less traveled is made easier and joyous with close friends! Mostly people who may have very different views yet always respect, listen, and challenge each other. And most precious family.
    God speed!