Greetings and welcome. Our last year of high school together has finally caught up with us, whisking us away from the wonderland teapot adventure of adolescence into the real world.
The past five years have been an exciting rollercoaster ride, from the laughs of in (or out) of school misadventures and pranks, to the stresses of upcoming exams and passing NCEA. In retrospect it only seems a day has gone by since we began high school 5 years ago. I can remember my first day of high school. I was confused, nervous, even slightly bored as I was introduced to my classmates and followed them to classes, a few of which have become good friends. Many of you will be heading off to University or polytechnic, travelling overseas or even joining the workforce, but most you will be uncertain of your future. Prospects of career paths loom ahead of us; following in the footsteps of parents and meeting the expectations of successful relatives or friends is soul crushing and dream destroying, but the ambiguities of decisions and opportunities can often stump us most.
Opportunities are always presenting themselves in front of us, whether we realise it or not. The chance to join a sports team, choose subjects or even resit exams is a precious privilege that we often squander. However, even the decision to exclude oneself from an opportunity can have bitter consequences. In year 10, I, along with many other students, had the opportunity to do level 1 maths a year early, but I didn’t. It was an action that I have regretted. I kept thinking, maybe I could have done it, maybe I could have been as good as the others, and maybe I could have got the excellence credits. But I moved on. I worked hard in class to make sure I did well in maths and other subjects, as well as the others could, so that I could prove to myself that I can do what they can do. It’s useless to live a life of regret and sorrow, to waste time wishing if only I did this. Move onwards and try to do better, if not for others then for yourself. You can’t move forwards into the future by standing back and dwelling in the past.
Consider yourselves lucky. You were raised in a safe environment by caring parents, with the freedom to walk the streets of a 1st world country without risk of kidnapping or mugging and able to choose which schools you are educated at. Not everyone is that fortunate. Over 80% of the world live in poverty, barely able to afford to live, let alone have a choice in their lifestyle. 300 million people live in war conflicted countries and live in fear of their lives, many are unable to seek refuge or even leave their countries. You are generation Z, the generation brought up with the internet and quick access to information. You will inherit the world of adults within the next few years and shape the future in your image. Whether you plan to become a doctor, a businessman, a postman or haven’t decided yet, make the most of what you’ve got and do the best you can.
Adults around us constantly tell us we can be what we want to be, that we can be astronauts or presidents or even millionaires, but that's not true. To achieve your goals you must work towards them, one way or another, but that is difficult if you don’t know what to do. People always ask, what do you want to be? What are your plans when you leave school? My parents say I should go to university, work towards a degree in science. Other people say that I should be an engineer or something else. I don’t know what I want to be in the future nor do I expect everyone else to know either. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, decide who you want to be, not what they want, and work towards smaller goals, like reaching a certain number of credits or figuring out how something works. That way you can still decide what you want to be without limiting yourself.
However to lead an extraordinary life it doesn’t have to be successful. The epic of Gilgamesh involves Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk who built a great city and travelled the land doing heroic endeavours with his friend, Enkidu. Gilgamesh then travelled the land to seek eternal life to conquer death after his closest friend Enkidu died. He found the fruit of the plant of life but lost it upon returning to his kingdom to a serpent. Although he didn’t gain immortality he dedicated the remainder of his time to make his city great. We can see that to seek immortality is to fear death, to live a life to its fullest is to overcome death. You don’t have to be the best at everything, you don’t need to be rich nor famous nor live the American Dream. To truly live an extraordinary life you must make the most of your opportunities, seek to better yourself and enjoy the time you have with friends and family. That way you will have no regrets when looking back in the last few days of your life.
We all have a choice in life, whether it is to work towards getting a degree or to get those last few credits. In the remaining months of high school you will rise from the ashes of your adolescence and be reborn as an adult exploring the wider world. Take those opportunities, if not then acknowledge them. The decisions you make, the opportunities you ignore, will define you.