Commencement 2023: Speech by Audrey Lee ’23

June 22, 2023

Hello, welcome, and thank you to everyone for being here today to celebrate the class of 2023.

I’ve always been afraid of change, no matter how small. From ages 9-12, the only things I watched were basically just The Parent Trap and Good Luck Charlie. I didn’t mind that I could recite every single line by heart; this was my way of being in control, being assured that nothing would change and that there was no uncertainty: Hallie and Annie would always find each other and their parents would always get back together on that rainy day in London.

Coming to Wheeler was one of the biggest changes I’ve faced, but being here has taught me to create and embrace change and uncertainty instead of turning my back to it. Now, I know what you’re all thinking: not another speech about how the pandemic made us stronger as a community. I think we can all agree that we’ve heard the phrases “unprecedented times” and “new normal” far too many times these past 3 years.

With or without a global pandemic, high school IS an unprecedented time, but the class of 2023 has embraced it all. We’ve faced external changes: a new schedule, online school, favorite teachers leaving, welcoming new students, joining a new sports league, and saying goodbye to many old traditions, but instead of only living in the past, we moved forward. We created change. As a class, we have not been afraid to do things differently than our peers and are not afraid to speak up about what we believe needs changing. We’ve created new traditions, new clubs, new friendships, and new history.

And we’ve changed as individuals. We’ve allowed ourselves to explore and be okay not knowing exactly who we are and who we want to be. We’ve learned our passions and powers and found the people and places that truly make us happy. We became comfortable stepping outside our comfort zones. For me that meant, spontaneously joining the Cross Country team sophomore year (quite literally out of one’s comfort zone), auditioning for 18 Wheelers, running for class president, and even joining the tennis team senior spring (even though I lost the only 3 matches I ever played) It meant learning to use my voice. It meant discovering my priorities and developing my values.

Most importantly we’ve changed because of each other. We are constantly unlocking new parts of ourselves thanks to the people around us. We all offer something unique to the class that we might not even realize we’re contributing. I’ve come to appreciate that I never know what I’ll learn or discover about you all, even after spending the past 4 years with you; how I’ve learned something incredibly specific from each and every one of you; and how even if we tried, we couldn’t put Wheeler students in boxes, especially not the class of 2023.

Everyone describes that closeness that accompanies senior spring; that shift within the class, something spontaneously bringing us together without effort, whether that’s a sudden desire to strike up conversation with an old friend, hang out on the turf more often, or wave hello to someone in the hallway who you don’t normally say hi to. I wondered when we’d get there, how we’d know we reached that point of togetherness. Eventually I realized it’s a mindset, not just a feeling or shared goal. It’s that time when we all realize and accept the fact that change is coming, a terrifying thought for someone like me.

Some of you may feel extremely ready to move on from Wheeler, some may be terrified of what’s ahead, and many of us feel a perfect combination of the two. Personally, I am concerned that people will continue to think I’m 14 like last summer when someone guessed I was 14, and when I looked offended, proceeded to make matters worse by asking “13?…12???”

Regardless of how you feel, this is one of the biggest changes of our lives, so let’s embrace it just like we’ve done for the past 4 years. Take moments like these to reflect, to think about your impact and your legacy. Think about the person you were in 2019 and the person you are today. For me, that person in 2019 wanted to know who I’d be today and feared all the changes I knew I’d encounter. I wanted the same predictability I sought as a little kid watching The Parent Trap on repeat. But now, let’s celebrate all the changes we’ve encountered along the way that have made us the people we are today. Did not mean for that to rhyme by the way.

Class of 2023, my ask of you before you leave today or before you part ways for the summer, is that you let someone know something they’ve done that has made an impact on you, no matter how small. Now is your chance to let them know something they did that inspired you, that moved you, something you learned from them, something that has (no matter how slightly) shaped the Wheeler graduate you will soon become, and hopefully someone will do the same for you. None of you would be the same without the other 81 of us. So, I’ll leave you with this quote from the musical Wicked. To the class of 2023, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Thank you and Congratulations!