What It Means To Be a Tiger

By: Connor F. ’16

Commencement is a day of celebration, congratulations and excitement! But it will also be remembered with some tears, sadness, and long goodbyes. I always knew the day would arrive. However, I could never have imagined my path nor expect the journey the Class of 2016 all would take together.

I have been a student here for 15 years, and I can honestly say that Staten Island Academy has become my home away from home. It is a place that has provided me with amazing friends, trusted mentors, and countless memories that will last a lifetime. For every commencement since I was in the fifth grade, I have sat with the orchestra, listening to so many speeches that seemed to have very similar messages. Every year it seemed that at least one speaker mentioned that the high school years would fly by.  And they were absolutely right.

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It seems like only yesterday that I was that wide-eyed fifth grader thinking my commencement was so far away. However, it has arrived, and instead of simply re-telling you all just how quickly the time does indeed pass, I want to implore you to stop every now and then to cherish your time here! Not every moment is going to be a memorable, triumphant, or glorious one, and that is okay. Because of all those years sitting on the other side of this stage—watching, listening and learning—I have taken the words and advice I have heard so often and managed to slow down time as much as possible so that I can appreciate the people in my life every day, the experiences we go through, and even the difficulties we encounter together.

I now view my high school years through the rearview mirror, but I am ready to move on with no regrets because I have valued my time here.  I am not sure too many students value their high school years as much as they should. It seems that we want to move onto the next stage of our lives too quickly, but believe me when I tell you that the Academy is a second home that should hold a special place in your heart.

With this in mind, I feel compelled to share three ideals that have been important to me throughout my journey at SIA. First, I want you to know that it is possible for you to find the best in every situation. Try to understand that all your experiences, both the positive ones and especially the challenging ones, will shape you. These moments will be connected and become “the big picture” that is your life. In the book, Chop Wood, Carry Water, author Joshua Medcalf reminds us to, make sure the life we are living today, is a story worth telling in the future. I believe in living each day to the fullest.  A lot of times we are caught up in a moment or complain about a little discomfort, and we lose sight of what is really important. I challenge you:  when you feel uncomfortable or feel like quitting, find something positive for which you are grateful for in that situation.  For example, during our ninth grade trip to Fairview Lake, our class—not known for our ability to “rough it”—complained endlessly about mosquitoes, dirty cabins, and inedible meals. However, these moments helped us bond together, and by the time we got back to school, we had grown closer as a class. By recognizing the benefits of a difficult situation, we will make the most of our years and be able to look back on all of our great achievements.

Second, and one of the most important aspects of my years at SIA, is living a life of service. Not just the kind that is written down on a form and receives recognition at the end of the year. I am referring to the ideal that by serving others, we can change the world!  Always serve! Always look for ways to give in every interaction—with strangers and also with people you know. You must find a way to serve, as only through service and sacrifice can we become great! The Class of 2016 has found their own ways to serve, and I’m talking about service beyond our required internships. From the Bread of Life Food Drive to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, from Habitat for Humanity to the Wounded Warrior Project, we have looked beyond our own lives to help others, enriching ourselves and others in the larger community.

Finally, I want to share my thoughts on leadership since we are given so many opportunities to lead here at SIA. Whether in the classroom, on stage, or on the playing fields, we all have honed our skills of leadership. As president John F. Kennedy once noted, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” During my time in each division—Lower, Middle, and Upper School—I was able to model my leadership style by learning from so many dedicated and caring teachers, coaches, and captains. Some lead from the front, others from the rear. Still others show leadership without saying a word. Over the past four years, the baton of leadership has been passed to us, and our learning has been enhanced through our roles as team captains, as leads in plays, as House representatives, as SAC leaders, and as club founders and presidents. In following our passions, we have led others. Leadership then is an integral part of who we are. And since we are Tigers, we have learned to be strong, fierce and patient leaders.

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Now, to the Class of 2016, commencement marks a new chapter in our lives. A chapter looked upon with anticipation, nervousness, and a whole lot of excitement. In the fall, we will all be off to our respective colleges and universities, ready and prepared for the challenges to come. I know we are prepared to serve, to lead, and to create positive change in the world. I hope to see each of you on the roads you choose to follow. After all we have been through together, we are connected to one another forever. Do not forget where you come from and when you get where you are going, do not forget to turn back around. Remember that the Academy is the home from which we all came.