Highlands: Graduation speech

By Ali Malik


This isn’t a finished speech. This isn’t even a final draft. If anything, this is the first draft. You’ll probably see grammatical errors, incomplete sentences/thoughts, comments and whatnot that are scattered on the page, however, the basic premise and idea of what I was going for is there.

Some backstory, If I were to win the honor of speaking at the graduation ceremony (by presenting my speech at tryouts), I wouldn’t have been allowed to speak at graduation because I was suspended in the beginning of the year. Making it pointless to even try out. I (as well as multiple others) were suspended due to hacking the school laptops. Nothing malicious ever actually took place (no, we didn’t steal your passwords, nor do we really have the knowledge to do such a thing), we just wanted unrestricted access to our own computers, to do our own thing. I still think this was unfair, we didn’t hurt anyone or do anything remotely close to hurting anyone or thing. We were also told that our suspension would not cause any hiccups for the rest of our school year (which, it clearly has). But I digress, enjoy the graduation speech. — Ali

Speech by: Ali Malik

*In accent* (Accent can be anything that isn’t my normal speaking voice)

Hello Highlands class of 2017, Faculty, Parents, Grandparents, Neighbors, Staff of the pool on the third floor, and Paul from Acme.

My name is Ali Malik, I’m somehow in the process of graduating at Northern Highlands Regional High School, not really sure how I made it this far, or alive in general, and I’ll be attending Pennsylvania State University this fall and pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering.

Before I begin, I would like to congratulate the class of 2017 for making it this far. Seriously, this is an achievement, there is a reason why this high school is nicknamed Highlands University. Alongside our high school diploma, we may as well get a degree for dealing with stress. Trust me, we’re now professionals.

Believe it or not, unlike most graduation speakers, I can one-hundred percent believe I’m up here congratulating my peers. Honestly, I think it’s one of the biggest honors here at highlands, can you imagine how great this is gonna look for my college resume? Of course, in all seriousness, I truly am humbled to be up here giving you this speech today. I, as well as all the students you see here today, have worked hard to make it to this point and will most likely party the night away after this ceremony is over. We sure deserve it.

To start, I would like to share with you, a bond. The bond that I’m about to show you, is a bond that not a lot of high school classes share. Highlands class of 2017, would you please stand up? [ Switch to “Would the real highlands class of 2017, please stand up? (?maybe?) ]

Now, I’m going to say 2 words, and I want you to yell at the top of your lungs, the first 2 words that come to your mind.

Are you ready?

*clear throat thing*

Rain drop

*please for the love of everything, say drop top*

Not going to lie, if none of you had said anything, my entire speech would have zero meaning, but I digress.

What you all just witnessed is the strength and the bond of the highlands community. None of them had any idea that I would be asking them to stand, but yet, they stood. None of them had any idea that I would be asking them to speak, yet, they spoke. They went along and knew exactly what to do. A bond as such, with this level of understanding, is something not a lot of schools have. The highlands community is one of the most unique, supportive, compassionate, and exotic communities I have ever been apart of. To be up here and to congratulate my peers is, to me, one of the most privileged things I have ever done in my high school career.

Speaking of my high school career, Northern Highlands has offered me a variety of tools, classes, clubs, and food. We have an international cafeteria and trust me, it gets pretty lit there sometimes. But besides the food, the classes, clubs and tools all have one thing in common. They stress everyone out. When I was entering high school, I was told countless times from the upperclassmen that, high school is a cake walk and that it’s only a small step up from middle school. Looking back at it now, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when these same upperclassman are now going to Ivy leagues. Unfortunately, for the common student such as myself, this isn’t just a singular step up from middle school. I would argue that the jump from middle school to high school was not a step, but dozens of flights of stairs. During my time at highlands, I have spent countless nights in succession crying, studying, working and shaking in pure terror and anxiety. In that order. Our sleep patterns, assuming we had them to begin with, were broken and shattered. This ceremony isn’t just about graduating high school and taking the *air quotes* “next step”, this is an acknowledgement to all the work we have put in, it’s about climbing those flights of stairs to reach the top.

Or so we think. We think we have reached the top. We open the door and we are met with nothing but more stairs.

Are you kidding me? Do you see this pit stains? *Raise hand to show off pit stains*

I, as well as the class of 2017, have reached this room, completely exhausted. As I look at the countless stairs ahead, I ask myself “why?”

Why do we bother with any of this? What kind of life am I trying to live, if the only thing I live for, is my education. I would like to ask for everyone to just step back for a minute. Instead of rushing to climb the next flight of stairs, stop, turn around, and lay your eyes on the flights we have flown over.

I can say for certain that these past 4 years have been the most stress inducing years I have ever went through, however, if Jafar the genie were to pop on to this stage right now, and offer to rewind time, I would say no. When pain is shared and understood, people come together. That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt. — Augustus Waters, The fault in our stars. Throughout the pain, I bonded with my family, I made amazing friends, I learned more about myself than I had wished to, and I came out with nothing to show for it, but a piece of paper that says I graduated high school, which by the way, is not even in my hand yet, it’s actually going to be mailed to us, in like 2 weeks.

Thanks highlands.

Although, this is essentially just a piece of paper, the symbolism of this piece of paper is too great to ignore. It represents the hardships we went through, the memories we made, the wins, the loses, and the “oh my god, DeLo definitely hates me”. I mean I didn’t fail calculus, so I’m gonna hope he doesn’t hate me. But I digress.

One morning, while I was trying to lose consciousness on the bus to school, two students behind me were talking about life and the way they handle their hardships. One of them said they “go with the flow” and that’s all fine and dandy, but sometimes the flow isn’t a subtle breeze. Sometimes the flow is this 100,000 meter drop, that, for whatever reason, you are falling off of.

Despite the urge to use calculus to find the rate of change in speed, I would instead like to point out a miracle. What’s miraculous about highlands students is that we somehow manage to survive these drops. However, upon survival, instead of walking away, we decided to take the escalator back up and proceed to do it again. Maybe next time I jump, I’ll actually calculate the rate of change. You can look at this in two ways.

Either, A, we are all insane and out of our minds. Or B, we’re just inclined to challenge ourselves. As you may have guessed, the clear answer to this question… is A. Our insanity is just uncontrolled and misguided brilliance.

“There is a fine line between genius and insanity.” and apparently Oscar Levant has already claimed to have erased this line, however, I feel that there is a new line, an online if you will.

The online universe has taken our generation by storm. This storm has both ruined lives with the typhoons it has produced, but, once in awhile, has also given us strength with the rainbows in the aftermath.

Unfortunately, sometimes, in the online universe, things become skewed, altered, and manipulated. Much like this speech. I’m sure anyone who knows me has realized this, but the accent that I have put on for you is completely and utterly *norma voice, no accentl* fake.

We now live in a world where

*accent* facts and fiction are

*normal* mixed up.

That’s a dangerous world to live in. I truly believe that a dialog is the key to peace, but that dialog needs to be completely honest and factual. Without a dialog, clear cut communication, compassion, and understanding, the world will refuse to move forward.

Thankfully, if highlands has done anything right, it has injected us with the tools to keep the world moving forward.

I have personally struggled with altered realities, if anything, the mere fact that I’m a highschool student with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, tumblr, Skype, Reddit, Steam, Pokemon Go, kik, GroupMe, and BitMoji should give that away. You can follow me at — no I’m just kidding.

But a portion of this altered reality was my college application experience. Believe it or not, college applications stressed me out. They stressed my peers out. They probably stressed the staff that takes care of the pool on the third floor out. But for some reason, no one talked about it. Instead, a lot of us just posted the obligatory “XYZ University ‘21” with maybe hearts emojis that match the color of the college. For every post I saw, I, being the anxious teenager I am, googled each and every college and added the word “ranking” after it, because I wanted to see how I would compare to this random kid that I haven’t said a word to since freshman year. Thankfully, Highlands has equipped me well enough to speak my mind. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t horrified and filled with anxiety when I spoke up, but the fact of the matter is, I still spoke. I am hashtag-blessed to be apart of a community that listens and communicates, and I can not thank those who read it, enough. I wrote an article on Medium titled “Anxiety, Rankings, Perception, and Transparency — Thoughts of a high school senior.” and posted it into the highlands class of 2017 facebook group. The response I received from that article was incredible. The thoughts and actions that I produced, were mirrored by the same students who posted the obligatory “XYZ University 21’” posts. But the thing that truly affected me the most, is not the praise, but the honesty.

*INSERT QUOTES HERE* [Note: People sent me really nice and honest stuff, after I posted the article. I had asked if I could quote those people. Although a few of them agreed to being quotes, I will not be adding these quotes because I do feel that they are still private. It’s one thing if they’re said once, but it’s another if they’re on this article for everyone to re-read.]

These are only a few of the students that reached out to me and related to me. It takes 2 to open a dialog, and I’m thankful to be apart of it. Because of this dialog, my own demons subsided and the stress on a few other students was lifted.

Without the tools that highlands gave us, some of us, like me, would still be in a stressed state.

Never be afraid to speak. Speak up, but speak with understanding and compassion.

We will keep the world moving.

To the parents and grandparents listening to my horrid voice, trust in your kids. We may mess up, but have some faith in us, because if you don’t, I’m not entirely sure who will.

To the neighbors, I’m glad you could make it to the ceremony.

To the staff that keeps the pool clean, thank you for your help, that pool will be put to good use.

To Paul from Acme, it was nice seeing you that one time and I’ll happily bag your groceries again.

To the faculty, thank you for dealing with us. We definitely weren’t an easy bunch, but you’ve taught us well. I couldn’t have imagined a better staff to teach us. Seriously, thank you.

And finally, to the class, the community, and the family of 2017, I wish you nothing but success, happiness, and love on your journey.

Never be afraid to speak up. And we’re having a pool party on the third floor after this.

Thank you.

Note Part 2:

Hope you liked that, I really think it was good, but whatever, no use moping about it now. If you’re interested, I worked really hard to create a recap video, for the year of 2017. Here’s a link. Enjoy.


Also, I referenced my other article, Anxiety, Rankings, Perception, and Transparency — Thoughts of a high school senior. Here’s a link to that too.

Thanks for reading.

— Ali Malik, Northern Highlands Alumni, Class of 2017