Senior Speaker Ryantony Exuma ’22 Reflects on Lessons Guiding Him Forward

Ryantony Exuma

Ryantony Exuma ’22 was the Senior Speaker for the Class of 2022’s Commencement on June 3. In his remarks, he reflected on his life at Poly since he arrived as a ninth grader and how the lessons during his time here will help carry him—and his classmates—forward in the next chapter of their life’s journey. Enjoy his moving speech.

Good morning graduates, faculty, staff, family members, and friends, 

We are gathered here to celebrate the vast accomplishments that have characterized our time at Poly and to look forward to the immense opportunity the future has to offer. Today, we are taking a moment to acknowledge this class’s hard work and sheer talent as they prepare to head off to the nation’s leading institutions of higher learning— from Bowdoin in Maine to USC in California, and everything in between—and even to leading institutions abroad, Emily and Cameron, to continue their journey in learning.

To my fellow graduates, we’ve done it! Through four rather long and arduous years, we have persevered all the way to this moment. I am thankful for the journey I have been able to share with each and every one of you. We’ve all grown and changed through the years, adapting to a world in constant flux all around us. You have put in the hard work in the classroom, on the field, in the studios, on the stage, and in your extracurriculars—demonstrating your personal grit, determination, and passion through it all.

So as you leave Poly and head all over the country and even abroad to attend college, I hope you will continue to utilize the lessons which our time in high school has imparted on us. I’ve identified three key lessons we have all learned in our own ways throughout our time here and I’ve come to realize their importance in any situation but especially when you’ve found yourself in a completely foreign place, as I did four years ago.

Take risks by stepping out of your comfort zone. Be flexible.

College is going to present so many new opportunities and possibilities; in that way, it will resemble the wealth of opportunities high school has afforded us. Take a chance and allow yourself to flourish in a new environment and interact with all that it has to offer. However, even as you immerse yourself in new experiences and environments, take care of yourself. Stay true to yourself and your most foundational beliefs. Don’t let yourself be persuaded to stray from everything you hold dear.

You never know what lies ahead, but all that matters is that you take it in stride—exuding strength, composure, and character along the way. 

As my absolute favorite song, “Take It Easy” by the Eagles, teaches its listeners, “We may lose, and we may win; though we will never be here again…so take it easy.” The roller coaster of life will bring you up and pull you down but never fret—it’s all a part of the ride. All you can do is take the time to cherish the moments in which you find yourself and accept the successes and failures in the stride you’ve demonstrated these past four years. If we could surmount a horrific pandemic, one of the most tense elections in a lifetime, school outside—and all of it in New York—we can always remember to focus on what really matters.

Be involved in what is transpiring around you; be a catalyst for positive change.

In this world, it’s become very facile to be decidedly pessimistic and downcast; don’t let all hope be lost. While it is true that there are so many pressing issues to be addressed, I believe that we all are up to the challenge and right to put in the effort. Now more than ever, we need a collective of citizens dedicated to preserving democracy at home and helping democracy flourish abroad. In addition, humanity is in need of a strong push towards fully embracing sustainable practices that allow our planet—the only one we have—to heal while moving humanity forward into the future. From what you have demonstrated these past four years, it is clear to me that that same immense talent, passion, perseverance, and strength will continue to be where the hope for the future lies.

Do what you love and take nothing for granted…

These three lessons have shaped our high school experiences in one way or another and will continue to be of great use going forward. But if you forget those lessons, I only ask three things of you: that you continually push yourselves to embrace new perspectives as your journey in learning continues to unfold. Secondly, that you take care of yourself and believe that you have something to contribute to this nation and this world—because you do. And finally, that you do what you love and take nothing for granted; appreciate the small things. If the massacres in both Buffalo and Uvalde have shown us anything, it is precisely that the things we hold dear can be instantly taken from us. Thank those around you for their help, love, and support—cherish them and hold them tight. For they are the ones who will always be there for you, especially when all the superfluous things fade away. They are and will always be your rock and foundation. To finish with one final Eagles reference, I wish you peace when the cold winds blow; I wish you hope when things are going bad; and kind words when times are sad; I wish you room to let yourself grow.

Thank you and congratulations!