For those of you who couldn’t attend Seton Catholic Prep’s graduation ceremony Tuesday evening, we are sharing Valedictorian Ben Leach’s words of wisdom. During his commencement speech, he spoke about his sister, Jordan, a Seton graduate who passed away in 2014 after a courageous battle with cancer. Here is his speech:
To begin, I want to say that it is an honor to be here before you tonight. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience, not just for me, but for all of us.
As I look back on my own high school career, there is one event that comes to mind that I think encompasses not only my four-year experience at Seton, but the experience of most of us as well.
During this past fall semester, I was working with a group of my peers on a project that most of my classmates have seen the result of: a video in which we interview several Seton community members about their experience with cancer. After one such interview, we were talking with the person, and he turned to me and said, “Ben, you really pigeonholed yourself in this project, didn’t you?”
I was confused, and asked him what he meant. His response: “You’re only seeing yourself as Jordan’s brother. You’re not seeing yourself as Benjamin Leach.” That statement has hung in my mind to this day.
For the longest time, we have been in the shadow of somebody or something else.
From the beginning of freshman year, we have been someone’s sibling, someone’s child, someone’s friend, someone’s teammate, someone’s classmate.
We live in the shadow of our teachers’ expectations, our parents’ expectations, society’s expectations. Heck, most of us even started as literal shadows before we even became freshmen! Despite all that, we have persevered, and now we are the ones who make the shadows. In the case of the Wirth twins or Carter or Sam Higinbotham, we literally make the biggest shadows (man I wish I was tall). We are the ones that teachers will refer to for years to come.
Of course, we’ve had help along the way.
Without Mrs. (Cindy) Kubasak, how would we know that love is a sincere gift of self? Without Mrs. (Bridget) O’Neill, how would we remember what a bildungsroman is? (It’s a coming of age story, by the way). Without Mr. (Ryan) Horn, how would we know that linear momentum is ALWAYS conserved? Without Mr. (Michael) Mead, how would we know to pay attention in class in case the teacher makes an algebra mistake? Without Mr. (Daryl) O’Neill, how would we know that the Bilderberg group is what really runs the world? All jokes aside, our teachers have formed us and prepared us for college and the world beyond.
We also have our parents. They have stayed with us throughout everything, coming to sports games, theatrical performances and fine arts nights, Toastmasters speeches and NHS ceremonies. They have helped us with our homework all four years -- well, maybe not MY parents, but most of our parents. In short, without our parents we wouldn’t be here today, and I mean that both figuratively and literally.
Because of them, we have set the standard for future Sentinels incredibly high. We have classmates going to Gonzaga, DePaul, Loyola, Notre Dame, (JOHNS HOPKINS), MIT, Brown, and even as far as Edinburgh! We have friends who want to be doctors, lawyers, politicians, and engineers. In short, we have a lot of very smart people going to very smart schools for a very smart–I mean long time. A lot of us are going very far away, and we won’t have the support of our families and friends to help us.
“And when you're alone, there's a very good chance you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.” (Bonus points if you know what that’s from).
Our lives are not going to be easy, good heavens no! All these parents in the audience will tell you that life is really, really hard. In spite of all of that, if we work just as hard, we will get through it.
This may be the end of our time in high school, but it will never truly be over. We have our memories, like that one time that Carson fell down the stairs. We have our social media, obviously, so we will be able to keep in touch. Most importantly, we have our traditions. “And because of our traditions... Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
So, my fellow Sentinels, you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile, and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife (or husband), and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
Hopefully, that answer includes Seton Catholic Prep.