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Valedictorian Eleanor Sun '23—Tracing Our Steps
Valedictorian Eleanor Sun '23 Commencement Speech
photo of Eleanor Sun at podium

To my "Centies," thank you for being the best classmates I could ever have asked for, and a special shoutout to our leaders, Iliana, Julia, Olivia, and Ebony, for all of your work in making our time here so memorable. As our last few weeks here have wrapped up, I have heard one sentiment echoed by many of my peers—we love our class. While we each have our friends that we gravitate to, I love how I can always talk and laugh with anyone who happens to be around. I love how we cheer each other on at the top of our lungs for even the smallest things, like making a ten-second announcement at assembly. I love how we never fail to lend each other a hand. To borrow the words of my childhood idol, Winnie the Pooh, “how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

As we prepare to begin the next chapter of our lives, I would like to end with some advice for the future. I think back to a quote from Heraclitus that I used in my college essay. He said, “the only constant in life is change.” It’s definitely on the philosophical side of things, but I think he was right all those years ago. We are leaving Stone Ridge to follow our own paths now. Whether we are excited or apprehensive about it, change is imminent for all of us. And while I can’t assure that you will always like it, I can leave you with what I have learned over the years about not just handling but embracing change.

The summer before fifth grade, my mom told me that she was taking a work assignment in China for a year, and that my brother and I would be coming with her. It meant leaving my friends, my school, my home. Even if it was only for a year, I was not happy at all. I had never easily accepted change, and to be honest, I still often don’t. I like having a plan, and I don’t like it when that plan goes wrong. But the thing about change, and life in general, is that you don’t always get to call the shots. No matter how much you may plan, you cannot possibly be prepared for everything. The only thing you can control is your reaction.

As ten-year-old me complained to my mom about what a disservice she was doing me, she told me in true mom fashion that I would be thankful for the opportunity by the time it was over. And, as hard as it may have been to admit, she was right. In China, I made new friends, I had fun playing sports just as I had before, I tried all sorts of amazing foods that I still dream about sometimes, and I visited lots of family that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. There were definitely tears shed along the way, but I came to embrace the change that I had been faced with.

“Our time at Stone Ridge has given us the tools and ability to do this, as we have been guided and shaped by the Sacred Heart Goals into confident and compassionate young adults.”

Sometimes, we are afraid of change because of its uncertainty. We are scared to dive into the deep end because we can’t see the bottom clearly. Sometimes, you don’t have a choice. Change can come along and push you right in. But, if it doesn’t, I urge you to take a deep breath, fill your lungs, and take the plunge. The water might be cold. There might be moments where you feel like you are drowning. But, if you just start to move around, you’ll warm up. You’ll become less and less uncomfortable, and eventually you may find yourself peacefully floating at the surface.

Now, where am I going with this? We are about to move on, away from home, and into unfamiliar environments. For some of us, this is the biggest change we have ever faced. We certainly do not know what the deep end holds, but that is perfectly normal. You don’t need to have everything figured out, because, as hard as you can try, you never will. But, wherever you go, I encourage you to commit—dive in, jump in, slide in, maybe even cannonball in—whatever works for you. Our time at Stone Ridge has given us the tools and ability to do this, as we have been guided and shaped by the Sacred Heart Goals into confident and compassionate young adults.

When you enter a class with twenty times as many students as you had here, raise your hand. Don’t be afraid to answer or ask questions. When you walk into a dining hall with hundreds of unfamiliar faces, take a chance. Find an empty chair at a table, sit down, and introduce yourself. Explore the deep end—join a cooking club, cheer on the basketball team, audition for an a capella group, play intramural flag football, volunteer for the local community, take a challenging class—whatever piques your interest. But, most importantly, remember to have fun while doing it. What’s the worst that could happen? If you start to feel like you’re drowning, give a shout, and the people sitting here around you will pull you up. Don’t let a fear of sinking stop you from jumping in, because then you’ll never know how it feels to float.

Class of 2023, I am so proud of you and of the journey we have traveled together. Even though our paths will now split, we can always trace our steps back to find our past intersections from our time here. I cannot wait to see and hear about all of the amazing things you are up to at our reunions (and on my Instagram feed). In the meantime, go out into the world and embrace the change that faces you. Thank you, and go Gators! ❤