MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And it is that time of year when high schools are saying goodbye to their seniors. Graduation ceremonies mean caps and gowns, diplomas, proud parents and commencement speeches by top students.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good evening, and welcome.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This spring, the NPR Ed team asked reporters at public radio stations across the country to bring us those speeches so we can hear what young people are saying as they head out into the world. We've pulled together some of the highlights. And so here they are, the graduating class of 2019.
JASMINE RICHARDSON: Good morning to the families...
TAM DANH: Friends, teachers, administrators...
RICHARDSON: ...Staff, alumni...
PAULETTE OLIVAS: And my coaches.
DANH: ...And of course class of 2019.
RICHARDSON: We finally made it. We got through long hours of classes.
KELLIN MCGOWAN: Four years of countless hours of homework and studying...
RICHARDSON: ...ACTs and endless tests.
DANH: From being jam-packed into the gym that very first day with nametags stuck to our new shirts, to our very first time in the stands of a Friday night football game.
RICHARDSON: And while some of those may have seemed overwhelming at the time...
MCGOWAN: And despite the adversity we faced, we've made it. And for that, we deserve a congratulations.
MCGOWAN: My name is Kellin McGowan, and I'm the first African American valedictorian at St. Thomas High School.
MCGOWAN: Throughout these years, our horses representative of our intellect, self-confidence and friendships have grown from small, inexperienced foals into resilient, steadfast stallions. As we graduate, it is now time for us to take these horses out of their usual habitats and ride them on the old town road that is the rest of our lives.
MCGOWAN: During this journey, we'll face various difficulties. We may face high mortgages and taxes, more break-ups and, believe it or not, teachers more difficult than Mrs. Thornton (ph). But we must, quote, "ride till we can't no more."
OLIVAS: But today isn't about me. It's about all of us. Can I please have you raise your hand if at some point someone doubted that you would be graduating today?
My name is Paulette Olivas. I'm 18 years old. I attend Trevor G. Browne, and it's in Phoenix, Ariz.
And keep your hand raised if that person that doubted you was yourself. This is the reality of these students' lives, and I want to congratulate every single one of you for completing high school and defeating all stereotypes and prejudice that others had of us. I'm still overcoming my own hurdles as Arizona legislation has made almost impossible for DACA students like me to afford to go to college. But I will not give up. I will go to college, and I will graduate college. And I will succeed as long as I have God by my side.
OLIVAS: Thank you. I encourage every single one of you to rejoice in what you love to do and show the world what you're capable of even when others doubt you.
RAMONE: We shall leave you with the legacy of being kids who were at their worst and who then became successful in a way that led to our high school graduation.
RAMONE: My name's Ramone. I been incarcerated since I was 13.
As we go into adulthood, we should congratulate ourselves as we become more educated. And we should also be congratulated for our accomplishments. When we hit bumps in the road of life, we shall always see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are many times in my life that I felt I wanted to give up but couldn't because I felt God gave me a purpose to live. As I stand here today, I feel hopeful that we, class of 2019, can all become successful and, without a doubt, show the people who ever did doubt us that we were going to become an important part of our average communities.
RICHARDSON: I never knew that I would be standing here today to give you a speech because at times, things feel almost impossible for me.
Hello. I'm Jasmine Richardson. I'm from St. Louis, Mo., and I go to Jennings High School. And I'm the valedictorian of the class of 2019.
No one has the authority in your life to tell you what you can and cannot achieve. Every last one of us is unique, and that means we will take on different paths, lifestyles and obstacles to reach our own successes. I'm here to tell you it doesn't matter how long it takes. It doesn't matter what order you go in as long as you get it done. Yes, you are going to have failures along the way, but failures are just pointing you to a new direction to accomplish what you set out for.
DANH: We as a school organized and participated in a walkout protesting gun violence, proving that despite our differences, we were able to fight for a cause bigger than the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, the language we speak and our religious beliefs. Together we can do good. We already are, and we will continue. Over the past four years, we have accomplished a lot as individuals and as a community. And being here today in these seats is the last box we get to check off.
I am Tam Danh, and I go to David Douglas High School.
From heading down to the computer lab as a third grade class to having Chromebook carts in every classroom, we're the generation of social media. And this is more than just sliding in DMs and sending each other funny memes. We have a voice, and we aren't afraid to use it. From the LGBTQ rights movement to the Black Lives Matter campaign, to the DREAMers and DACA policies, we know that the only solution to our problems is unity and knowledge. But throughout everything, we were constantly surrounded with love, encouragement and support. So I've got a few things to give. To the teachers whose jobs extended beyond 2:30 p.m...
RICHARDSON: To those students and administrators who have watched, challenged and nurtured me...
RAMONE: Ms. Harrison (ph) and Mr. Owens (ph) always made time for me to talk with them and motivated me to stay out of trouble.
DANH: To the coaches who pushed us past our limits...
RICHARDSON: We thank you.
DANH: ...Thank you for truly caring for our education and success. So as we end this chapter of our lives...
MCGOWAN: Whether the road you're on leads you to the Oval Office or to a small business in the middle of nowhere...
DANH: ...Take the time to remember where you've come from and the ones who've gotten you here.
MCGOWAN: Sit down. Be humble, and complete every task ethically, thoroughly and honestly.
DANH: Find your passions. Fight for change, and strive for success. Class of 2019...
MCGOWAN: Class of 2019...
RICHARDSON: The amazing class of 2019...
OLIVAS: From the bottom of my heart, I wish you the best of luck. Congratulations. We did it.
KELLY: And our congratulations as well to these and millions of other graduating seniors around the country.
CORNISH: The ones we just heard were from Kellin McGowan at St. Thomas High School. That's a college prep school for young men in Houston.
KELLY: Paulette Olivas at Trevor G. Browne High School in Phoenix.
CORNISH: Ramone at the Youth Services Center in San Mateo, Calif.
KELLY: Jasmine Richardson at Jennings Senior High and College Prep Academy outside St. Louis.
CORNISH: And finally Tam Danh at David Douglas High School in Portland, Ore.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: A previous version of this story included the full name of one of the students featured. Their last name has been removed in order to preserve their privacy.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.