Emily Ray is the Valedictorian of the 2021 Class of Arab High School. She is the daughter of Rob and Dawn Ray.

The following is the edited text of her graduation speech:

Good evening. I am nervous to begin. Those of you who know me might feel a twinge of dread as my voice quivers, but I know you remain hopeful that my courage will persevere.

Before I am distracted by the message I’ve come to share, I would like to express my gratitude toward a few groups of people and two specific individuals.

I thank my family for the continuing support system and unconditional love that has been unceasingly offered to me. To my friends, I am elated to have met you; your company and reassurance have lifted me from the pits of hard times.

Mrs. Hammond, thank you for your advocacy that I may give this speech. Finally, to Mrs. Lawrence, I cannot appreciate enough the time and help you’ve given me so that I can speak up here with some semblance of confidence.

The discomfort I feel this evening is not at all alien to my body. It has twisted my stomach for the last four years, sparing me with little to no reprieve.

Discomfort, however, is a human feeling, and uncertainty is the human experience. This I have come to realize after an extended period of believing I was alone in my confusion.

I felt alone in general. Now I understand that loneliness is not a personal feeling; it is impossible to truly be alone as we travel through the human condition together.

Assuming we are alone, or assuming that we are responsible for every moment or interaction of each day, brings unnecessary pain and stress into our lives, and to some extent we must release ourselves from the unwarranted power that we wrongly believe we possess.

It is difficult to assimilate into an environment that moves too quickly for your pace: that which cannot adapt will be engulfed by its keener surroundings.

There are no set rules to adhere to; no person shares the exact same experience with another.

I tried to make assuming a tool to distinguish my “people” from the rest; however, as I tried to chisel away at the stone block of unfamiliar faces that loomed before me, I discovered that my tool was casually chipping pieces from myself instead.

Under a more scrutinizing light, it becomes apparent that our defenses don’t defend us.

Assumptions don’t foster personal growth. You cannot develop as an individual if you fail to recognize the individuality of others.

There is nothing to learn when assumptions barricade every path forward. It is intimidating to surrender your biases and initiate conversation, but you must. Opportunity will not come to those who go out of their way to avoid it.

I cannot talk about assumptions without touching upon what they are a precursor to: self-isolation.

Self-isolation is a trap that you don’t escape without leaving a little piece of yourself behind. You have to, as it’s the ultimate fall-back when the going gets tough, but do not mistakenly place any sort of value in your last resorts.

Value instead the things that force you to step outside of your comfort zone, and do not allow yourself to return to old, bad habits.

Little remains constant except uncertainty. The future is just as controllable as the past, which is to say both are untouchable.

Our current beliefs about the approaching “ideal life” after high school are tantalizing, but we base our expectations off of what we know today.

What we know today is not what we shall know tomorrow – not in a world that revolves too quickly for our tenuous balance.

Continuing to struggle against that which you have no power over will wear you down, so embrace the unknown, or at least submit to it.

Do not settle for the unrelenting criticisms of your own mind.

Find community. Keep it close.

The desire to retreat is there, but you are stronger in numbers and deserve the people that will reassure you of that fact.

Thank you.

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