On Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the 280 members of the Montville Township High School Class of 2021 graduated. Senior Elliott Jo, President of the MTHS Class of 2021, was the first to speak before his peers.
Jo encouraged his classmates to not ignore problems, but rather to take steps every day to face problems head on and to come face to face with obstacles.
“I am here today because of this realization: Having self-confidence and becoming stronger is not about struggling less, but rather realizing and accepting that you’re weak and that your problems are too big to deal with on your own,” Jo said. “Being strong means to invite and face weakness, instead of running away from it.”
This fall, Jo begins a major in Finance and Business Analytics at the Boston College Carroll School of Management.
In his speech, he discussed the importance of acceptance of self, and encouraged his class to be true to themselves. He also acknowledged the impact COVID-19 had on his peers as well as on himself: “Personally, as grueling and as stressful as this year was, I found it to be a great opportunity. Not an opportunity to relax and stay home (which is something that all of us can relate to), but rather one to really address, face, and fight my greatest struggle in life: myself.”
Graduation 2021 at MTHS was held outdoors, on the field, in the Mustangs stadium.
“These past couple of years were crazy,” Jo acknowledged. “Especially the last two. We experienced a worldwide pandemic that we thought we could only see in movies and saw our world rip itself apart, allowing underlying issues such as racism to resurface and be once again exposed for the world to see. But despite all these events and conflicts, we’re here.”
In all, four student leaders addressed the graduates and the community on June 23.
“The most important wisdom I will take with me from high school,” Jo emphasized, when asked about the most important thing he learned during his four years at MTHS, “is that being strong means to first realize and accept that you're weak.”
A video of Elliott Jo’s speech can be viewed at this link. Below is the transcript of his entire speech.
Elliott Jo - President of the MTHS Class of 2021
Graduation Speech 2021
Students, Parents, Staff, and Administration, it is my honor to be the first one delivering a speech tonight at such an important event. My name is Elliot Jo and I had the privilege of being the class president these last four years of high school and I would like to sincerely welcome everyone to the graduation of none other than the Class of 2021.
These past couple of years were crazy. Especially the last two. We experienced a worldwide pandemic that we thought we could only see in movies and saw our world rip itself apart, allowing underlying issues such as racism to resurface and be once again exposed for the world to see. But despite all these events and conflicts, we’re here. And to that, please join me in giving ourselves a nice big round of applause.
Personally, as grueling and stressful this year was, I found it to be a great opportunity. Not an opportunity to relax and stay home (which is something that all of us can relate to), but rather one to really address, face, and fight my greatest struggle in life: myself.
Looking back in 8th grade, when I was first offered the title as class president, I realized that I didn't choose to run because I thought I would be a good leader or be of great help to our grade. I didn’t think that I had what it took to lead our class to get the unique achievements we have. Heck I wasn’t even thinking that I would even be able to obtain the class president role itself. (no) To me, becoming class president first served as an escape, an escape from the self-deprecating view I already had on myself.
Growing up in Montville, as some of you might recall, I had a very hard time fitting in. I was a very odd and intense Korean kid with social awareness close to none. Making friends was hard, but creating bullies was candy. I remember spending half of my elementary school days in the guidance office because teachers would either find me a ruckus or was genuinely worried about my well-being due to the strange ways I acted in class. Through this, I quickly learned at that young age that being myself was something that people found unusual and discouraged. And to this, I did everything I could to change their perspective.
I switched my priority from trying to find myself to pleasing the people around me. I believed that if I was able to make people like my peers and family happy and gain their appreciation, I would eventually find satisfaction and significance in myself. I tried to grow and maintain this persona, doing everything I can such as gaining as many friends as possible, changing my actions to become this “nice guy” everyone would choose to be around, trying to push for events that would make our class and council something set apart and substantial. And I think the most destructive thing that could have happened during this period is that it worked.
People looked at me differently. Instead of viewing me as some weird social outcast, I was seen as affable. I became someone that my family could finally brag about and look happily upon. I felt that I was no longer seen as a burden, but rather an asset to my environment: someone appreciated.
However, I was more lost and unhappy than I ever was. I saw myself become this great and celebrated person that I hoped and strived to be, but found nothing close to the satisfaction I anticipated. I was so focused on pleasing others as a way to deal with my low self-esteem and took more time trying to change other’s perspectives of me, that I never took the time to change my own first. Every year I became more and more of a stranger to myself, not even knowing what I was passionate about or what made me genuinely happy. I found myself at a very dark place junior year, where the Elliot everyone saw was the complete opposite of the reality. I became resentful of myself for not reaching this standard and character that I wanted everyone to perceive me as. I pitied myself, feeling pathetic that I even got to this place because I was obsessed over my self-image. I questioned my worth and saw no meaning in myself.
But I am here today because of this realization: Having self-confidence and becoming stronger is not about struggling less, but rather realizing and accepting that you’re weak and that your problems are too big to deal with on your own. That being strong means to invite and face weakness, instead of running away from it. I ran away from my problems and in an attempt to make my life better, but all I did was make them bigger and have more control over my life. I hope and pray that this class would be filled with people who take steps every day to come face to face with their obstacles. That even in a world full of distractions and outlets of temporary satisfaction, we choose to deal with our weaknesses, not by ourselves, but with others who genuinely support us. Knowing that whatever problem we face, we do not face it alone.
I was fortunate enough to surround myself with people who really pushed me to grow and take steps to change my own life first before anything. Before I end, I would like to take this time to thank these people in my life.
First of all, I would like to thank the student council: Emma, Maddy, Victoria, Natalie, Annabel, Xu, Efthymia, and Alexis. I lacked a lot and was very unqualified for this position, but it was through your patience and kindness that I was able to really learn what it meant to be a leader. You guys have taught me how to work together as a team, but also how to enjoy and have fun during this process.
I’d also like to thank Ms. Rivera and Mr. Mosera for being the best class advisors that I could ever ask for. The student council always talks about how we’re so lucky to have you guys and your dynamic as we went through High School, and couldn’t have achieved what we did without your guidance and support.
Next, thank you to the administration; Mr. Sanford, Mr. Gelber, Mr. Nadzak, Dr. Rovtar, Mr. Grau and the rest of the Board of Education. I learned so much through the limited but meaningful interactions I had as you all served as really inspiring and unique role models in my life.
I’d like to thank the teachers I had during these last four years. Ms. Vanhorn, thank you for allowing me to ask you the dumbest questions about Chemistry even though you probably went over it in the class before. I will never forget the memories I had with you especially in our AP Chem class as that class was definitely one of my highlights of high school. Thank you Ms. Kilanowski, your kindness and positivity that you brought everyday was unwavering, and I hope to become a kind-hearted and genuine person like you. Dr. Kilanowski, even though you find the greatest joy in my embarrassment, Thank you. You inspired me to always work on myself and make the most out of every opportunity that came my way. And yes Mr. Grau, I was able to hand in all my books to him.
I’d like to thank some of the boys that I surprisingly grew close with over COVID: Veeank, Tim, Dilan, Nikhil, Theo, Safi, Nhean, and Alex. You guys really made quarantine an enjoyable time, as I wouldn’t trade the deep discord calls and hours of gaming for anything else.
I would also like to thank a particular friend that I had the pleasure of knowing since elementary school; Justin Zurawlow. I’m not sure if you remember, but you were actually the first person during my weird elementary school days who really took the time to talk to me and hear me out. That kind of empathy is something I still remember today and something I hope you never lose. Thank you.
I would like to thank the rest of my close friends like gingy that I had the honor of meeting these past four years, as I am the person I am today because of their love, compassion, support and even criticism towards me. I hope to continue and grow these friendships as we go onto the next chapter of our lives.
Last but not least, Thank you Mom and Dad. This might be the first time I’m calling you Mom and Dad, as usually its omma and oppa, but thank you for everything. You guys showed me so much love and sacrificed so much, that it pains me to only be able to say thank you. Dad, I hope to become someone great and loving as you, as you never failed to remind me how much you were proud of me. You sacrificed so much so that Enoch and I could have a better future, and I hope to not let those sacrifices go in vain. I hope to become a devoted father like you, as even though you worked for the entire day, never once while growing up did I feel like you were absent in my life.
Mom, I’m sorry that I was such a cold and emotionless son, who was stuck in his own world. I didn’t believe that I deserved the unconditional love you gave, but you showed me that love is something that can’t be earned. Thank you for everything you do, from making food to reminding me to read the Bible every day. You sacrificed so much for the family, including for Dad, and I know that God recognizes the kind of devotion you had to us. Thank you for always making sure that I was mentally and emotionally well above academics. Your patience and empathy for others amazes me every day, and I hope to become the loving, selfless person you are. Thank you.
To end, I would like to thank the Class, as I had the honor and privilege of meeting and getting to know a good majority of you over the past four years. I can confidently say that I’ve met so many unique and talented individuals in this class that inspire me to better myself. I had the honor of spending the last four years with you guys, and my god has there been some crazy moments that will leave a legacy. I wish you all the best as you all go onto the next chapter in your lives, thank you.
The 2021 MTHS Graduation ceremony was broadcast LIVE on the Montville Township Public Schools YouTube Channel. Live music was provided by senior members of the MTHS Concert Choir under the direction of Kristen Markowski. Processional and Recessional music was recorded by the MTHS Symphonic Band and Orchestra under the direction of Ellis Jasenovic and Andrew Harrington. The Class Advisors for the MTHS Class of 2021 were Richard Mosera and Laura Rivera.