Of the 3.5 million or so high school seniors graduating this spring, a few — a very few — will be named valedictorian, that most elusive of high school honors.
Top of the class. The crowning academic achievement of years of grueling study and homework, papers and projects, quizzes and tests.
And then another hurdle. Step up in front of classmates and deliver the speech of a lifetime. A young lifetime, to be sure, but still. There’s pressure to find words to put the final year of school in context for your fellow graduates. To craft a message that will resonate, reassure, maybe even inspire, as life after high school looms.
That’s difficult enough in a normal year. But this year, when school often didn’t feel like school at all, when classmates and teachers were mostly thumbnail images on a flickering screen, when faces and emotions were masked and the country shrouded in disease, death and discord, finding the words to make sense of it all and find shards of light and purpose has been all the more challenging.
For Lana Lubecke, valedictorian at Kalani High School in Honolulu, the pandemic and the political and social turmoil of the past year gave her a stronger sense of what she wanted to do.
“Before the pandemic, I felt like I was stretched really thin,” Lubecke said. “And when basically everything was canceled, I kind of got the time to sit back and be like, what do I care about? What activities do I want to prioritize? What are the most meaningful and how do I think I can make the most impact? And I think I learned a lot.’
With time to step back and assess, Lubecke said she realized she wanted to become more civically engaged in her community. She has spent part of the past year advocating for education equity and making better educational opportunities available for more students.