I never experienced the challenge of delivering a valedictory speech, mainly because I never rose to the challenge of being top of my class in the first place. And today, with the rigorous math and science requirements we didn't have back then, that challenge is even greater.
On May 23, after my granddaughter Kaylynne sat down with fellow Dacula High School graduates and wearing her National Honor Society Cords -- another honor I never claimed -- I was most impressed with valedictorian Andrew Udell's message. I could relate to his academic challenges and to Mr. Udell I extend my congratulations.
That very morning another valedictorian spoke at the commencement for Collins Hill High School, where my great nephew Caleb graduated. That speech was delivered by Manav Dutta, but I must say, I didn't relate to his challenges in the way I did to Mr. Udell's.
After a lighthearted greeting with jokes about senioritis, Dutta proclaimed, "It's time to finally get back on the right path."
He went on to say, " I challenge you all to find your passion," acknowledging that many fellow students have "faced challenges that were physical, financial or spiritual."
He then went on to tell his own story:
"I too struggled as a child. I have Asperger's Syndrome. I was diagnosed at age 3. I always had problems with understanding people and talking to them. It's the reason why I'm known as a bit quirky even today. I didn't even speak until I was 3, and I never liked talking to other people. I was stubborn and always preferred to play alone. I had no sense of myself or other people at all; I was disabled. My parents never thought I'd be able to attend a regular school or even function independently. They thought I'd be institutionalized for the rest of my life. If you've ever watched the Rain Man, that's how they thought I was going to turn out.
But look at me: A disabled child, with seemingly no hope of improving, has become the valedictorian of Collins Hill. More than a decade of constant struggle and hardship, and I now stand on this podium. Only a few people know what I have gone through: My brother, my mom, my grandparents, my aunt, my uncle and my friends. They all have helped me in some way. But no one has supported me like my mom. She is the major reason for my success. When I was in 7th grade and was perpetually bullied, she told me to focus on my studies so that I could one day overcome my situation in life. She is the main reason that I stand now on this podium."
Mr. Dutta then encouraged fellow graduates to set a goal to "live the best life you can."
That last statement I think we all can relate to. And to Mr. Dutta, I extend my congratulations.
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.