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Student Activities Council President Daniel J. Lee of the MTHS Class of 2018

 

 

Listen to Student Activities Council President Daniel J. Lee's speech here

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MTHS Class of 2018 Daniel J. Lee

Damiel J. Lee

 

Good evening class of 2018!

I want to welcome all the parents, siblings, relatives in attendance tonight.  We all appreciate you being here for our special day. 

I would like to extend a warm welcome to our Superintendent of Schools: Dr. Rovtar and all of the school district administrators, our Board of Education President: Mr. Grau, as well as all other Board of Education members, and the high school administration: Assistant Principals Mr. Gelber and Mr. Nadzak and Principal Mr. Sanford.

I would also like to draw attention to the gray ribbons on the left side of every student’s gown.  Following the passing of our beloved history teacher and mentor, Mr. Porter, we wanted to spread awareness for brain cancer as Mr. Porter had fought a courageous battle.  His legacy will live on and we know that his spirit is here with us today. 

Before I get into the crux of my speech, I would like to thank the people that have nurtured me into the person I am today. 

First, to my parents:

You guys are the reason I am standing here today… literally. 

Dad, ahba – you’re one of the strongest people and I honestly look up to you as my role model.  I know you’re not a man of many words, but I truly cherish the time we spend driving together because you have taught me so much.  I can’t imagine the struggles that you went through having to immigrate to a country in which you had to learn the language and also find a way to take care of your 5 siblings and mom.  You’re the definition of a family-man and I want you to know that I truly appreciate you laying down half your life so that my brother, sister, and I could live out our lives.  I love you forever. 

Mom, uhma –I know I often give you a hard time and I really regret not learning Korean more fluently because I really want you to understand how much you mean to me.  You are the most kind-hearted person and I am happy to know that my success makes you so proud.  You cook the most delicious food and I hope you publish a cook book or teach me the recipes because I don’t think I’ll survive without it.  Thank you for your unwavering support.  I really mean it when I say it, 사랑해, 당신이 나의 엄아 인거시 매우 자랑스럽습니다 (I love you, I’m proud that you’re my mom). 

Next, a very special teacher, Ms. Gormley:

Ms. Gormley –It is because of you that I have the courage and strength to stand up here and speak to everyone here today.  I’ll never forget our early morning breakfasts together and conversations in room 301.  This community has been lucky to have had such a caring, dedicated, and phenomenal educator among us.  With regret we say goodbye, but every student, past and present, will remember the love you have shown each and everyone one of us. 

Next are two individuals that have been with me since day 1:

Brian Anthony Laurito – It was first grade in Ms. Smith’s class where you were crying, so I came up to you, asked you what was wrong, and the rest is history.  I’m glad we became the best of friends over these past 12 years.  Thanks for being someone I could rant to about anything.  Thanks for driving me to school every morning and waiting 20 minutes in my driveway, waiting for me to get out of bed.  You’re the real MVP. 

Sehee Hwang: It feels like it was just yesterday we were in 3rd grade on gmail, video chatting each other about who knows what.  Thanks for being one of the only people I can truly be myself around, and for reciprocating that same level of weirdness, if not more.  I’ll never forget our last-minute study sessions together, buying snacks during class, and randomly singing mid-conversation.  When I say I’m going to miss you, I truly mean it.  You’re one of the reasons I’ll make sure to stop by home as many times as possible. 

Believe me, I would have liked to have shouted out the whole Class of 2018, but then we’d be here forever.  To make up for that, tonight at 8:30, you should all have received an email to your school account from me.  Each email is personalized for each and every single one of you because you have all have had an impact on me one way or another.  I have each of you to thank for making me the individual that I am today, but more importantly, each of you to thank for being able to present the message I have to share with you all tonight.

I’d like to open up to you all.

Whenever I was asked the question, “What’s your biggest fear?” my response was always automatic.  Some would say flying, some would say death, and others would answer those 8-legged demons called spiders.  For me… it was always loneliness. 

This a concept I’ve thought about for a long time now, and you might be thinking, “but Dan, you’re one of the most extroverted people I know!” You would be right, but it’s also something I’ve struggled with in the past.  Growing up with my brother and sister, both of whom are 8 and 9 years older than me, many of my earliest childhood memories were spent with the friends of my siblings.  It wasn’t until they had both left for college in 5th grade that my life took a sudden change. 

The friendly faces that had once roamed my house every other night disappeared and my house was left with a feeling of emptiness.  I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I often felt alone in middle school.  I had a lot of school friends, but real friends, not as much.  If it weren’t for online video games, I honestly don’t know how I would have turned out.  Through those 3 years of middle school, I learned a lot about myself.  It became my goal to ensure that no one I knew felt the way that I had.  Before I put myself in a position to single out others or judge based on pre-conceived notions, I made it a goal to understand opposing perspectives and take the time to listen to those with differing views 

There are approximately 7.4 billion people in the world… Ms. Gizas would tell you I’m not a math person, but even I know that’s a big number.  It only takes 1, just 1 of that 7.4 billion, to brighten up someone’s day.  Something as small as saying hi to someone new in the hallway or engaging in simple conversation can go a long way.  If I can make one request to everyone here, it’s to be more open minded about people and never count anyone out, because you’ll never guess what stories they have in store for you.  Everyone is talented, and the class of 2018 has proved that.  Whether you're an accomplished dancer with the Roquettes, can teach everyone how to dougie at prom, are planning to play D1 field hockey in college, or even have a "photographic memory," everyone sitting here today has their own niche skill, and most likely, we don't even know about it. 

But there’s another reason why I ask you all today to become more inclusive and open-minded.  It’s a bit more serious, yet I feel that it’s something that needs to be addressed

Unfortunately, 2018 has not been a good year for schools.  In 24 weeks alone, we’ve seen 28 school shootings take place.  It’s crazy to imagine that this averages out to over 1 school shooting per week.  We, as a society, have proposed solutions, and the likes of gun policy have led the forefront for safer schools, however, I don’t want to discuss that.  While gun regulation may or may not play a part in creating safer schools, there’s another solution that we, as a community, can look to act on: inclusion.

Peter Langman earned his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Lehigh University and most recently in 2015 released a book titled School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators.  In an interview, he notes, “Take Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. He didn’t have a friend. He didn’t speak to anyone in four years of college. He was an extreme loner. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, spent most of his time in his mother’s basement playing videogames and watching movies. He was very isolated.” [https://ed.lehigh.edu/theory-to-practice/2013/school-shooters].    The Sun Sentinel, located in Broward County, Florida, released an article about Nikolas Cruz, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter.  “The young man has been described as “lost,” “lonely”

These examples are few, but nonetheless represent a lot of same sentiments that school shooters cite.  I agree, these school shootings would not have happened without guns.  The school shootings still would have happened with or without mental illness, but this does not excuse our society’s blatant ignorance to attending to those who feel like outcasts.  People who feel like they have no one to go to.  People who feel alone in this world of 7.4 billion people.  People who may just be looking for a friend, someone to talk to, someone to share the same smiles, laughs, and memories as everyone else. 

I urge everyone here to try to be more inclusive of those that may feel like outsiders.  Whether you’re a rising sophomore, junior, or senior here at MTHS – go and sit with someone new during lunch, make an effort to include more people into conversation, or even try to invite others to school events.  And to you all who sit before me, sit next to someone new in class, try new sports or clubs, but most of all, be willing to make friends with people you never would have imagined.  No one should ever have to feel alone, and everyone here has the power to change that.

Recently our country has been more divided than ever, and as a result, people have been prone to ignore the opinions of those who disagree with them.  We have bred a culture in which people who don’t believe the same ideals as you are regarded as having nothing important to say and that their opinion, therefore, is insignificant.  On the contrary, I believe it’s the other way around.  Yes, it’s good to associate with people that agree with you, but speaking with those of opposing viewpoints is an opportunity to expand perspectives and better understand the world.

Today, more than ever, it is critical that we try to open our minds to new people and ideas. 

We don’t need politicians to pass laws about inclusion.  We don’t need people to teach us how not to treat others.  What we do need… is to break down this social stigma that some people seem “weird” or “odd” and therefore, we shouldn’t try to talk to them or interact with them or try to be their friend.  Please do not interpret my message as being the solution to a problem.  There won’t be any definitive answer but being more inclusive is certainly a step in the right direction.   

I can’t imagine how different my life would be if it weren’t for all of you sitting before me that were willing to give me a chance, talk to me, laugh at my bad jokes, but most importantly, take the time to be my friend. 

If you take anything away from my speech today, please, let it be to open your minds to people than are different from you.  I hope everyone is willing to spend the same amount of effort that they had investing in me, into new and different people that you’ll encounter in the future.  Thank you all for listening and for giving me your time.  It’s been a pleasure Class of 2018.  I truly mean it when I say… I’ll miss you all greatly. 

 Daniel J. Lee

 

Listen to this speech as it was presented LIVE on Montville Township Public Schools' Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MontvilleTwpSchools/videos/1944621972257044/?t=1217