June 19, 2018

Valedictorian Speech Inspires with Words of Wisdom and Encouragement

Darby-Jayne FletcherAlbert Einstein once said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

The Distance Learning Center has made the choice to treat us as individual learners. They have made the choice to understand that the path to success looks different for each of us.

Today is the result of a lifetime of choices. Your path may not be the same as the person sitting next to you, but we have all arrived at this point together. Many people will say graduation is the first day of the rest of our lives, but so was yesterday, and tomorrow and each day after that. The choices we make steer the course of our lives and this never ceases to change. We have learned so much and have anxiously awaited this day. However, just as fast as this day has come, it will be behind us and there will be more choices.

Look around the room.

No, seriously, take a moment and look around the room.

I think it is safe to say, although some of us have interacted online, very few of us have ever been in the same room together. That’s the incredible thing about our school, even though we may not be able to put a face to the name of our teachers and classmates there is something unique that binds us all together. The DLC is a beautiful combination of students, teachers and staff with many talents, abilities and passions. Despite the fact that we all come from many hours, miles and cyberspaces, away we are connected through our common learning experience. Every one of us has, at some point, panicked over low batteries, done highway homework, submitted assignments at 3 am, skyped with our teacher, and probably recorded ourselves in either a weird outfit or butchering a foreign accent.

Oh yeah, Ms. Korolis, so sorry about my horrible Celine Dion impersonation.

I am sure there were also those lonely, frustrating days where we probably thought, “being in a classroom would be so much easier.” For me, a reassuring chat with Renee encouraged me to dig in and carry on. The DLC has given us more than just a diploma. We are moving forward as resilient, capable, responsible, and determined individuals who are ready for wherever life may lead us.

I was asked to speak on the topic of, “look how far we’ve come,” and although I don’t know everyone’s story, I do know that we have come far. For over 150 years the classroom remained virtually unchanged. Body breaks, restructured classrooms and awareness of individual learning styles have only been introduced in the last decade. My great grandpa often tells stories about his youth when he had to “walk uphill, both ways” just to get to school. He talks about his one room school house and how the students loved learning. They thought THAT BUILDING was their WHOLE WORLD.

Advances in technology have greatly transformed the classroom. Teachers use computers, tablets and smartboards to expand learning beyond 4 walls. These advances have allowed students to venture out into the digital world where they can search and receive information in seconds. This access to knowledge allowed students to realize that the classroom was NOT their whole world but that the WORLD was their classroom.

The DLC has taken this idea and broke down all barriers to learning. Our teachers encourage us to not only FIND the information but to go OUT in the world and experience it for ourselves. Online learning gives us the freedom to take our education wherever our journey finds us. Teachers are always just an email, phone call or skype away. We made a choice, took a risk and stepped away from the traditional education system. In doing so each of us discovered the unique, supportive and adaptive way of learning through the DLC. Not every learner thrives in a typical classroom. We are proof that there is a need for individually tailored, portable education.

Through online learning we have the ability to customize our education and explore our individual passions through our assignments. I‘ve heard it said that, “A great teacher will teach their students HOW to learn as opposed to WHAT to learn.” Without a doubt, the DLC has transformed the way students think and feel about their education. Our teachers encourage us to develop our own perspectives based on our personal values, morals and beliefs. The DLC has been a safe place for me to be myself. I know we’ve all ended up here for very different reasons, but because of the DLC celebrating diversity, those reasons didn’t keep us from getting an education. Diversity has been described as: the art of thinking independently together. What an awesome description of our journey here today.

When we don’t feel the need to hide what makes us unique we have the opportunity to gain confidence and become resilient in the face of adversity. One of the greatest lessons I have learned through my 2 and a half years with the DLC is that adversity is not the problem but rather how one chooses to respond.

The DLC came to my rescue at a very low point in my life. After a serious head injury that forced me to miss 5 months of school, left me with constant headaches, limited vision and long term Post Concussion Syndrome I was told I would never play hockey again. I had played for 9 years with various teams and had travelled all over North America playing a game I loved more than anything. So, halfway through grade 10 my family decided to relocate away from the city to give me a new start which didn’t include the constant hockey reminders. I attempted to fit in at the local public school but for various reasons I wasn’t accepted. I felt extremely alone without my team or my sport and was bullied everyday by the people in my class. I ate lunch alone, cried in the bathroom and dreaded stepping on the school bus each morning. This caused my grades to suffer as well as my confidence.

I was faced with adversity and 2 very clear choices. I had the choice to let them define me or keep fighting to be myself. I went to school everyday with my chin up, trying to give the kids in my class yet another chance, but came home with crushed spirits feeling defeated and hopeless. My ability to be resilient and stand up for myself had slowly withered away and I felt like I had tried everything. After a particularly horrible incident I told my mom I was never going to school again. My mom went into problem solving mode and contacted the DLC. I enrolled the next day.

I know my story is not unique. I only share it because I know we all have a story that brought us to where we are today. We all have faced challenges that have strengthened us. I was welcomed with open arms at the DLC, and NEVER ONCE was judged on my ability to climb a tree. The staff gave me hope that school and life could be different. They embraced my desire to learn and supported my dreams. I have nothing but good words to say about this amazing school and I couldn’t be happier to be here and graduate from the DLC with all of you.

Looking back I realize that success isn’t a straight line, it’s really just the sum of our choices.

Days like these seem to fly by so I want to take a second to appreciate how far we’ve come.

Think about your goals and dreams and how they have shifted and changed over time. Recall the people in your life and how they have impacted your direction.

Think about how hard you have worked, the years you have taken, the time you have put in to get here.

Look how far YOU’VE come!

Now, think about where you are going and the infinite possibilities laid out before you. We have a long journey ahead of us, but we have already come so far. This is an achievement to celebrate with your family, friends, classmates, teachers and staff of the Distance Learning Center. Together, we can share and reflect on the joys, struggles and experiences we have gained from our education so far.

Graduates of 2018,

Ahead of us stands life.

Ahead of us stands the people we are to meet and places we are to go.

Ahead of us stands our dreams.

Ahead of us stands choices.

Ahead of us stands the future. Let’s define it for ourselves.

Written by Darby-Jayne Fletcher