The following speech was delivered by top of the class student Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 2010:
In this article, Erica talks about how she did not learn how to think in high school, but rather, how she learned how to repeat what was given to her. She learned to regurgitate - she was the top of her class because she was the best at repeating things. I couldn't agree more with my high school experience. We were taught how to take tests, but we were never taught to challenge things, to contemplate ideas, or even to create things. Even the most creative-based classes still had a framework around them.
And then I got to college. My freshman year, I struggled. I took honors classes that my GPA said I was worthy of, but I had to fight hard for those grades. I wasn't taking classes that wanted me to fill out a multiple choice test with answers. I had teachers that asked me why I thought something. Why is Voltaire considered a great writer? Why are people afraid of new technology and ideas? They seem like pretty standard questions - but there are so many different options. Where in high school I was told that there is a frame that all correct answers should fall in, college challenged me to think outside the box. A monotone, textbook answer would only grant me a C, or maybe a B- in this new world of mine. I had to go above and beyond.
College opened a world of new experiences to me, and created ideas that I never thought were possible. I learned how to create my own thoughts. I learned that challenging my religion, while some would argue against, really only solidified my beliefs. And believe me, I challenged - those religious studies classes, especially the ones that focused on other religions, really grounded the world for me (and it's amazing how much you can learn about a culture from their religion). I learned that immaturity only creates the ability to mature, and that without arguments, you can never truly learn your position. I learned that a research paper in which you present no new ideas or analysis is just a summary.
When I enrolled in my first communications class, I hated how there were no boundaries. But creativity blossoms when the lines are erased. I now love and appreciate that I was pushed to expand past my comfort zones. It frustrated me so much the first year or two of classes, but now, I'm so grateful for the opportunity.
My degree is more than just my grades. It is my friendships, my arguments, and my laughter. It is my perseverance, my sweat, and certainly my tears. It is my frustration, and my ability to work through that frustration. It is my discovery, my creativity, and my adaptation.
It is everything I strive to be, and everything that I have the potential to become.