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We changed this school

Rex Cottone, President, HMHS Class of 2023

Just over a year ago, I stepped into Mrs. McHale’s office on a Friday afternoon, and Mr Romea shook my hand and said “Congratulations on your election, Mr. President.” I turned to Mrs. McHale, and her first words were, “Better start planning your graduation speech!” So, I have spent the last 11 months and three weeks doing exactly that.

I was so overwhelmed – there have been so many great graduation speeches in the history of Haddonfield to draw inspiration from, yet I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how I could show the world how outstanding my classmates have been. After hours and hours of researching and working, I realized that nobody should ever again have to go through the stress of what to include in their graduation speech. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce Rex Cottone’s Semi-Official Guide to the Graduation Speech.

Step 1: The introduction. Often done by way of expressing thanks, the introduction is meant to acknowledge everything and everyone that made this happen, that got us here. For example: thank you to all the staff and custodians who helped set up this event and are taking care of the 50,000 people here tonight. Your great work never goes unnoticed, and we are all incredibly grateful for you keeping our home looking flawless for the last four years. Next, to the parents, guardians, family members, and friends, thank you very much for coming and supporting not just your child but all of us. I know you’re excited about the pictures later, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Last, thank you to all the teachers and administrators who organized this and did everything they could to get us walking across this stage tonight. Thank you to Mrs. McHale for showing me how to navigate being a leader. Thank you to Coach Q and Mr. Dortone for being my mentors in my one and only year of student council this year. And of course, on the topic of mentors, thank you to the teachers who taught me just as much about becoming an adult as they did about the curriculum. I wouldn’t be here without the ones who taught me not just the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus but also how to live a life that truly is beautiful.

Step 2: Accomplishments. Sometimes read as a list, the accomplishments are meant to highlight how our class has contributed to the history of our high school. But what is history? According to Ryan Gosling’s character in the movie Half Nelson, history is change. It is two opposing forces struggling back and forth until one comes out on top, thereby causing a turning point. Somebody better check on Mr. Scors and make sure his socks are still on. In the last four years, the class of 2023 has faced many opposing forces, but we have continued to be resilient. We never run from the grind – when we want something, we take a good look around the room and say “Let’s ride.” And we get it done. We wanted to win spirit week. We came closer to sweeping the entire week than any class in history. We wanted sectional championships.  We got 10 of them. We wanted to be on this stage. (dramatic pause). Here we are. We face opponents, we come out on top, and we cause turning points. Turning points in our lives. Turning points in the lives of our peers. Turning points in the history of our school. This school did not just change us, we changed this school. That’s the only accomplishment I need to list.

Step 3: The future. Used to conclude the speech, often with some sort of quote or popular media reference, the future section is meant to bring forth confidence in all of the graduates and show them that they are ready for whatever they may face. Since Jack O’Donnell used Baby Keem lyrics in his speech last year, I had to find a new artist and a new quote. After weeks of searching, I landed on Dwayne Michael Carter Jr, Founder of Young Money Entertainment, who once said, and I quote, “Real G’s move in silence, like lasagna.” Most of you probably know him as Lil Wayne, but Dwayne Michael Carter Jr sounded way cooler. What does it mean to move in silence? Some may think that to move in silence is to avoid all attention, to live a life of stealth, and eventually to be forgotten. However, moving in silence is more about why you move than how you move. Real G’s like ourselves do what we do not for the approval or satisfaction of others. We do not move to change the world in return for attention or praise or money. We move because we love it, and because we want it. The class of 2023 is proud to have over 200 students going to the colleges that we want to attend, not the ones others think we should. We’ll study what we want to study, not what others think we should. We do what we do because we love it. We have a passion for changing the world like no one else you’ll ever meet, and we are proud of it. We are the realest G’s, and among all the noise we have faced and will face, we move in silence. Like lasagna.

Over the last four years, the class of 2023 has had every reason to give up. We faced great stress, great loss, and great change. Our school culture lost so much heart and spirit. Our teachers and administrators told me in September that they were looking to our senior class to return the soul of Haddonfield Memorial High School that they felt was missing. They said the school might never be the same if we couldn’t bring back its vibrancy and spirit. Everyone wondered what would happen if we couldn’t live up to these standards. Everybody wanted to know what would happen if the class of 2023 couldn’t be one of the most outstanding classes in the history of Haddonfield.

I guess we’ll never know.