Alyssea Immonen’s Commencement Speech 2021

Congratulations and Good Luck


I’m Alyssea Immonen, I use they/them pronouns, and I’m so honored to be here and in-person with you all!

I took a rather unusual approach while writing this speech and asked several of our classmates to reflect on some of their high school highs and lows. Despite our many differences, our experiences overlap in valuable ways, so the stories that I highlight throughout my speech do not belong to me alone. They aim to be a distillation of the entirety of our class, so thank you to everyone who contributed.

High school is not an easy time and the last few months have been particularly challenging between COVID, finalizing post-high school plans, and inching closer to adulthood. But I want to take us back to a simpler day that started it all: First Adventure. I remember my student leaders describing their classes, clubs, friends, and sports in the spaces between stops on our tour of the school. I was amazed by the number of opportunities and beyond ready to begin.

That day, I was able to imagine my high school experience in a “realistic” way for the first time: I’ll wake up on time, eat breakfast everyday, go to school, maybe go to practice or rehearsal, get a job, do my homework. I’ll eat dinner with my family and tell them about my day. I’ll do my chores and drive my sibling to a friend’s and take a shower and get enough sleep and have a social life and be a role model and somehow find time to fill up my cup. I’ll do whatever it takes to live my 36 hour day in 24 because these are the best four years of my life. 

As part of this commitment to myself, I sign up for clubs without looking at their names in exchange for fistfuls of candy. When I start getting their emails, I narrow them down and begin to find communities where I can be my authentic self.

As an athlete, theater-kid, musician, or simply a student, crushing anxiety clouds my vision, catches my breath, affects my ability to walk as I look at a crowd of faces, or hear a roar of applause. But I won the game, I perfected my lines, my solo was flawless, and the presentation went exactly like I planned.

Months later, my first real friend group finalizes our weekend plans on our way to the bus. After parting ways, I’m sexually harassed. In a perverse way, I consider myself lucky because, when I report it, I am believed.

Later that week, a teacher tells me to “do one thing every day that scares me”, so I try to. I finally volunteer to answer a question in math. As my confidence grows, it matters less that my answer was wrong and more that it is an opportunity to learn.

That night, after therapy, I receive an alert that there was a gun scare at one of the middle schools. “It was a false alarm,” I remind myself on the way to school the next day, and I realize that I forgot to brush my teeth. In response, I leave class to attend a student-organized walkout to protest gun violence in schools, with my teacher’s support. And, mixed in with my fear, I feel grateful for the opportunity to express myself because I know it’s not this easy for students everywhere.

After school, I ask my crush out to a movie. They say no, but I go anyway because what’s highschool without heartbreak? A month later, I’m at a party talking to someone I can’t remember ever seeing before. The room reeks of alcohol and unsupervised activities and we kiss. My next kiss is better.

I share the updates on my lovelife at my family member’s death bed before reading them passages from Davidson for the fifth night in a row. I have a test tomorrow and I don’t have time for my life to fall apart. When the AP exam rolls around, I get a 4 – evidence that weeks of cramming pays off in the form of a head-start in college.

At the end of the year, I try to choose classes that fit my interests and whose curricula encompass a multitude of identities. There’s not enough room in my schedule for Race, Power, and Identity and Asian Studies, so I’m forced to choose, but it’s having the choice that matters.

Over the summer, a friend is diagnosed with cancer. Once school begins again, they ask the nurse administering their chemo treatment if they remember Avagadro’s number so they can finish their chem homework on time. It becomes a running joke between them until, during their last treatment, their nurse can finally give them an answer. It’s 6.022 x 10^23. And they beat cancer.

Before I know it, junior year is almost over and things fall apart in a new way. There’s a pandemic, and we have to go home. There’s no sports, no play, no prom, no plan. Hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, lethal encounters with law enforcement, and anti-trans legislation are at terrifying highs. I’m scared – for myself and others – and nothing feels normal. Still, I go to class and learn new skills and ask teachers for letters of recommendation.

After a painfully lonely summer, for the first time since elementary school, I can’t wait for the first day. I spend hours matching masks to outfits and daydream about finally being surrounded by my peers. With three days to go, I get news so disappointing that I hadn’t thought to prepare for it: “there was a crowded… party… we must start school in remote learning”. Rage consumes my entire body and, surprisingly, jealousy too because I want what those students could pretend we have. I want “normal”.

I finish my personal statement the night before Senior Dress Up Day. My group goes as characters from our favorite movie, and I flash a smile in time with the camera even though my mask conceals it.

A few months later, rejection letters fill my wall. I didn’t get into my first, or my second, or even my third choice. In fact, I’m going to a school that I didn’t dare to believe was a choice at all. But, as it turns out, it’s perfect and I can’t wait to go.

Days before graduation, my head pounds in time with the music as I dance at prom in an outfit I can barely afford. The venue, food, and transportation are nothing like what I imagined, and I laugh because I’m so glad to be here at all.

When I look back on the past four years, I do not see the best four years of my life; instead, I see the most meaningful four years of personal growth and transformation. The pressure to live up to the expectations of this time often prevented me from appreciating my reality, which had far more cracks than the “picture-perfect” image I anticipated. Ultimately, high school should be a time where students learn how to think and feel deeply, learn how to navigate relationships and set boundaries, grow immensely, and become people of whom they’re proud. I have, and I am incredibly grateful to those who supported me through it all: my family – both the one I was born into and the one I found here at LS – clubs, teachers, friends, classmates, and everyone who made my time memorable. I would not be on this stage without you all.

Whether your high school experience was: everything you hoped it would be, the worst four years of your life, or anywhere in between, I have so much faith in your ability to create the world you wish you had grown up in. I look forward to seeing the ways in which you all make the world a more beautiful, inclusive place and live out your best years, which I truly believe are yet to come. Thank you and congratulations, graduates!