Senior Speaker MaKiyah Turner-Hicks ‘24

MaKiyah Turner-Hicks '24

Each year, the Commencement speaker is an eloquent student, visible in many different facets of the community, elected by their graduating classmates. On June 14, 2024, MaKiyah Turner-Hicks ’24 delivered a speech full of heartfelt reflection, offering advice for the future and a wise perspective on viewing our mistakes with compassion. MaKiyah reminds us of the importance of embracing the full experience of venturing beyond the familiar and the courage it takes to step into the unknown, no matter how long one has prepared. Enjoy MaKiyah’s wonderful speech!

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Hello and welcome, students, families, friends, staff, faculty, administration, and everyone in between.

Before I start, some thank-yous are in order. I’d like to thank my teachers, for not failing me, and my classmates, for getting me up here today. I’d like to thank my family, “Team Kiyah,” for their endless support, for showing up when they could and especially for their calls and prayers when they could not. I love you, and I am so so grateful. And I need to give a special thank you to my mother, my first and most steadfast teacher, who has dealt with more early mornings, lonely nights, and fines from going across the Verrazzano and Goethals Bridge than anyone. I couldn’t repay you if I tried, in more ways than one. Okay, now that my mom’s crying for sure, we can move on.

First, let’s manage some expectations. While I have been awarded the title of senior speaker—a label I am grateful and excited to bear—the reality is that I’m not some wizened expert on life or school or even public speaking, really. I’ve lived about as much life as you guys have—give or take a few months—and I have grown and learned every lesson alongside each of you—give or take a few changing faces. How lucky I am, to share this stage with you: athletes, musicians, artists, journalists, directors, programmers, scientists, and so much more. In one sense, it makes this job easy, knowing I’m part of such a formidable class, and in another, very real way, it makes this job impossible. Who am I to give you one last lesson?

I know what I am not, what I don’t want to do, the impressions I don’t want to make. But I also know I’m not perfect, so my musings about life will undoubtedly border on preachy, a joke or two — or all of them — will garner more eyerolls and silence then they will actual laughs, at least one of you will turn to a friend and say “what is bro yapping about?” and it will be wholly deserved, I assure you. Nominating me was a risk. Ostensibly volunteering for it was a bigger one. Speaking at this pedestal is the culmination of them both, and like anything this new and experimental, it leaves me vulnerable to a whole world of embarrassment should I get it wrong. If not now, in a year; if not then, in five more.

Embarrassment is judgment, one we inflict on ourselves just as much as we do onto others, and if there’s one thing we can be trusted to do well and often, it’s judge ourselves. In spite of some of your Instagram liking habits or the fact that one of us has probably been paid to trip on the way to their diploma, I know we’re all familiar in one way or another with the concept. Embarrassment is practically a reflex at this point. When we take a risk, make mistakes, lose control, or even when we never had it in the first place, we are more inclined to judge ourselves than to accept that these things are unavoidable and necessary. Why is that? There’s no shame in being afraid, no embarrassment that should come with trying new things, no discomfort that justifies the pursuit of the familiar at the expense of our passions and ourselves.

College has been on the horizon for our whole lives. At least a few years before any of us even knew where we wanted to apply, we were told that every activity, every grade, every detention or mandatory study hall had the chance to make or break our futures. We’ve prepared painstakingly for this moment, and yet deciding to go to college is still a risk. This moment is the culmination of it, and like anything this new and experimental, it opens us up to a whole world of embarrassment should we get it wrong. If not now, in a year; if not then, in five more.

Optimism doesn’t come easily to me. I try to exude it, with varying degrees of efficacy, to refute all the doubts that I have about myself, my abilities, my future. It’s so difficult to be brave, in the face of it all. Walking across this stage may just be the easiest thing we do in the next few months — before we pack up our lives and away our childhoods, before we’re forced to say “goodbye” or “see you later” to our friends and family, before we confront this future that seems to be barreling towards us rather than us towards it. We’re all here today because we’ve already done the bravest thing a person can do: we’ve made a commitment to change. It is a change so groundbreaking, it has taken us at least 4 years to prepare; so intensive, it has the power to remake even the smallest and most familiar things into entirely new experiences. It’ll be our first time walking through their halls, lifting their weights, sleeping in their dorms, eating in their cafeterias. We might be overwhelmed by it all, we might not know how to react, and we might need help. We might get frustrated that the transition isn’t seamless. The only assured thing is that we will make mistakes, and we will stumble, and we will be vulnerable.

In response to all that, I want to read something to you: part of the letter I wrote myself at Senior Sunrise, back when I thought we would be receiving them today. The letter goes as follows, starting with the classic MaKiyah-isms that are:

“Heyo! How goes it? I hope this letter finds you well and excited, if a bit terrified. That, at least, I’m confident will stay the same. I’ve kinda thought about what I’d say to you, but honestly, right now, I don’t know what to expect. I hope, whatever happened, that you’re proud. I know you’ve poured your heart into this year: into the things you do, the people you love. I hope you’ve felt challenged but overcome it. I know you made it because that’s who…you are? I am? We are. That’s who we are…No matter what, I want you to know that you’ll be okay. I get it, we’re anxious, [and here I used a slightly…more crass word originally, but] screw us and screw our brains. I know it’s true because we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, and we’re stubborn, so we’re bound to give the world some hell. Your mistakes are behind you, your support systems around you, and there are so many opportunities straight ahead.”

Embarrassing, isn’t it? I spend two weeks stressing about what I’m gonna say in this speech, and this guy nails it. Off the cuff. In maybe ten minutes. I had such a hard time believing “past me” could write a better speech that I waited until 1:00 AM yesterday to edit this part in — sorry, mom.  In any case, “past me” was wrong about one thing: our mistakes aren’t just behind us. They’re in front of us too: big and bright and oh-so-embarrassing. In the moment, we’ll think we won’t ever get past them, but I’m not being optimistic when I say that we will. I’ve heard enough trusted, professional adults—many of whom are on this field—talk about their college days to know that there are very few things we can’t bounce back from. 

Have some faith. Take that step. Do it scared. Try your best. Fail. Take a breath, and use it to laugh at yourself. Now is the time to learn and to grow, to teach ourselves to love learning and growing, no matter how uncomfortable it proves to be. Choose patience and understanding. Choose pride, for getting this far. 

I am proud of us! I know how hard it’s been to get here, at least for a few of you, which is exactly why it is so important that we take this time to celebrate. That now, before the dread sinks in or the embarrassment starts up again, we rest. Because we’ve earned it. Class of 2024, enjoy your summer, I beg of you. I’ll see you on the other side.

MaKiyah Turner-Hicks '24