Common Ground has a long tradition of inviting any student who has a powerful message to share — not just the valedictorian and the salutatorian — to address all those gathered at our graduation. This year’s speeches were particularly moving — demonstrating their courage and conviction, how much they had grown as learners and leaders, and their faith in the Common Ground community to hear what they had to share. The diversity of our small community was also front and center: One student read a sonnet by Shakespeare. Another described the self-discipline and supportive community that was helping her both be a good mom and college-bound student. Our valedictorian talked about what it takes to be more than a machine that follows instructions. Other students described pursuing their dreams despite their immigration status, and overcoming a stroke to succeed in high school. We are still working to track down copies of all the speeches — but here are three speeches as a starting point:

From SungIn: Find Your Passion

It’s good to finally be at graduation. Common Ground is such a unique place among other high schools, and I’m happy to be part of the graduating class of 2013. Some of us have been here for four years; for one of us here, this has been our first year. However long it’s been, we’ve made it, despite our personal lives, problems, and having to take public transportation everyday.

Looking back, I’ve realized that I’m really good at doing what other people tell me to do. In fact I’m the best, and that is why I’m standing here now. Whenever the teacher assigns something, I get it done.

But going into college, I want to be more than just a machine, and I’m sure all of us here feel the same. My message today is to find your passion. Find what it is out there that you love to do. Some people may already have an idea of what it is, but if not, do not give up, because outside those doors there is a passion waiting for every single one of us. It’s only hard to believe if you make it that way.

Find a passion that is not rooted in gaining money, because someone will always have more money than you. Find a passion that’s really worth it, like what are teachers at Common Ground have done, because they all know you are worth it. Find a passion that develops deep connections with other people, for they will fuel your inspiration. Find a passion that creates a positive impact on other people, and the Earth, and you will benefit.

Thank you and congratulations.

From Joseline: Take Advantage of Every Benefit I Do Not Have

When I was three years old I remember my grandmother kissing me goodbye at the airport with tears falling down her face. She asked my parents why would they take me away from her, and all my parents could really say is that they were doing it for me. My parents’ intentions were to take me to the country where dreams come true.

I was aware that if I wanted to make it in life I had to rely on school. So the first day I walked into Common Ground High School I was determined to make every second, every grade, and every lesson count. Not only this but I encouraged my peers to do so as well. And as some of you know, I still push my peers. I wanted to help spread the values my parents incorporated into me, because school has never been a laughing matter to me. It’s my ticket out, it’s where I will repay my parents for all they have done for me, it’s my ticket to proving to those that discriminated against me for being undocumented.

My experience in high school was a tough journey. I started off as a freshmen in CGHS and transferring out to a high school in Ecuador for two long years. Two years I would’ve wished to have spent with my Common Ground family, however, during these two years I never gave up on my dream to be standing here in front of you all. When returning back I was afraid people would’ve forgotten me or that senior year wasn’t going to be long enough for my peers to learn about who I truly am. Yet, I was wrong, you all took me in as if I never left and for this I thank you because the constant fight of being here today was well worth it.

My senior year was filled with tears and constant stress to reach my academic expectations. Not only this but there was a point where I was afraid that all my hard work was going to be thrown away. When applying to colleges all the feedback I received was, “sorry but we cannot help you, sorry try another school, sorry but your grades do not matter, sorry but you need a social security number.” I felt all the doors closing. And I wanted to give up. Why did I stay up so many nights for this? Then I picked myself up, and I realized that it doesn’t matter if today I might not apply for the Dream Act or DACA, but that God will one day give me my reward and I just have to be patient and wait for that day. But I did it. I’m graduating with  a GPA of 3.8 and I’m the salutatorian becoming the girl that believed she could, so she did.

I have told some of my story to you all for a reason. It’s because I want you all to take advantage of every benefit I do not have. I wish you all nothing but the best and may God bless you all in every path you decide to take. But please work hard because it pays off. Take college seriously. Just think about all the amazing opportunities you have that I do not have but I still continue on every single day as hard as it can get, I work harder. There’s nothing I’d want more than to have what you have. Allow yourself to make your dreams come true, for yourself and for those that are rooting you along the way.

With that, I want to honestly hope we will all keep in touch, but sadly it sometimes does not work out that way. After today we are stepping out into the world where we won’t always have second chances. So I want to wish you all many blessings for the years to come, wish you lots of happiness, success and love. I want to thank my teachers for always supporting me and helping build a young lady that is ready to begin college and strive. I want to especially thank my parents for sticking with me always, even when I let them down they have been the reason why I am who I am and for that I am blessed. It’s an honor to have them as parents. They are going to continue to be one of the reasons why i will refuse to give up.

From Lysbethe: I Realized How Common Ground Had Prepared Me For This

To the class of 2013: today’s the day. Everything we’ve accomplished, everything we’ve been through, has led us to today. Just four years ago we were skinny little freshmen trying to figure out where our next class was and looking clueless to all the upperclassmen. Now, we are the upperclassmen. We survived the long journey of high school. For some four years seems like a lot — but to us, it seems like it all just happened yesterday. Twelve years of school, eighteen years of life and just one day to graduate. When the first day of high school came I was nervous because we were all new to each other. But as time past and getting to know each and one of you I knew this is where I belonged.

These past four years have been the most challenging for me because I became a mom at 17. Everyday I fight against thousands of people who don’t believe in me. But that is no reason to quit. I have proved daily that I am strong and that I can do it. In the days I woke up with morning sickness I wished life would be different for me. I wished I was spending the last months of my junior year with you guys. However, I left Common Ground to go to Polly T. McCabe Center to continue school.

I then realized how much Common Ground had prepared me for this: How to overcome any obstacles and keep moving forward. In addition, I realized how much I missed everyone. Maybe we all were not close but, we are the class of 2013, my senior family.

On November 9, I was blessed with a baby boy name Jayden. As he opened his little eyes and looked directly at me I knew I had to do more than what I already was doing. I knew education had to be my top priorities because of him. When I came back to Common Ground on January 28, I felt back at home. You guys have taught me to never give up and always believe in myself. You made me realize that just because I’m a mom, doesn’t mean I have to give up. If you can do it, I can accomplish my dreams too. I also appreciate the support from my teachers who always pushed me and pushed me — like Ms. Foran always reminding me of my community service sheet.

Thank you for not being ashamed to say that one of your senior classmates is a teen mom. Thank you for always welcoming Jayden with precious compliments, hugs, and kisses. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel, how much I appreciate, growing up with all of you. I am proud to say I’m part of the class 2013 and proud to call every one of you a member of my class. We all go through good times and rough times but I wouldn’t trade my high school experience for anything else. Everything that we’ve been through has made us into who we are today. Standing here today on our graduation day I think of when Jayden’s day will come — and I would love it if his class was a family like ours. So remember my seniors it’s not a goodbye; it’s an I’ll see you later. Good luck.