Thursday, 11 July 2013 00:00
The day has finally come—today we say goodbye to Manhasset High School. Some of us have been together since seventh grade, while others are new this year, but we can all agree that this school has helped us to become the people that we are today.
Being a victim of senioritis, I put off writing this speech for a while; thankfully, it paid off because I found inspiration in the “Bringin’ It On Home” presentations during our last week of school. We were to pick three books from our past and three from high school that influenced our literary careers and outlooks on life. It seemed that nearly everyone included The Great Gatsby. Pessimists may accredit this to the fact that this was a short book so students actually read it, not just the sparknotes version, or the fact that we had recently seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s rendition as Jay Gatsby in theatres. However, I feel that our grade has a special connection to this book—one that goes beyond the superficial affinity toward the Long Island setting.
Entering junior year, arguably the most stressful of high school, these one hundred eighty pages somehow broke through and captivated us. We learned that the past may be a comfortable place to visit, but it is certainly not a place to stay. Rather, we should embrace the changes that come with maturity. I’m confident that if most of you looked back on tweets or Facebook photos from a few years ago you would agree that Manhasset has already seen us make quite a few changes. Beyond the physical adjustments, this school has given us the confidence to develop our own opinions, express them, and change them, often more than once. That which we regard as important constantly evolves. In ninth grade it was how to tackle our first spirit week. God forbid we go all out on a day when hardly anyone dressed up. Then it was keeping your twitter ratio in check. Grades, sports lineups, and the college process ranked high on many peoples’ lists of stressors. But Manhasset also taught us to value friendships, sound morals, perseverance, competition, and the advantages that came with being raised by this town. Every teacher, sport, and club added perspective, rounding out our characters and chipping away at our sheltered lives.
We can learn from Gatsby the vitality of rising above the pressure to conform to the people that others perceive us to be. Be yourself, and if at any point in your life you realize that you are not proud of that person, have the courage to change. It is never too late to discover who you’re meant to be. A safe life leaves little room for the natural development of our characters, so quiet the insecurities and take chances. This is the time. Fitzgerald wrote, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I implore you to find your green lights, with our ambition we are sure to have many during the course of our lives. But do not stop there, build a boat, and row to them—Manhasset has already provided you with the tools to do so.
The moment I entered the doors of Ms. Gordon’s 5th grade class, I was embraced in the arms of a family. Starting with her intimate exchanges of “Good Mornings” in place of your prototypical attendance, she created an unbreakable bond between us that holds today. On March 4th, 2006 that family suffered a great loss, yet in PJ’s passing our family grew immensely that day. The entire town had been touched by his quiet grace and infectious smile and showered his family with love and support that all but matched the magnanimity that PJ possessed. PJ had that kind of effect and resonance on everyone he came across.
PJ Furlong was a brother, a teammate, and most of all a friend. Not a day went by where he failed to put a smile on my face. He had a sixth sense for identifying the pain of others and made it his personal mission to alleviate it… many times at his own expense. He understood the value of a laugh, and went to great lengths to bring it out of those around him. His own was contagious and could cure any ailment.
In writing this speech I asked my mom if there was any story I brought home regarding PJ that I was particularly adamant about. Immediately, she told me of the time I came home beaming with pride for in a game of recess kickball, PJ picked me for his team in front of many well-abled boys. Therefore we all can see that PJ was very wise for his age. At the time I’d like to think that after he pushed the cooties aside he recognized that -plain and simply- some girls are just more athletic than boys. Yet, his actions ran deeper. Winning and losing wasn’t his priority. Instead PJ looked to improve the day of anyone he could reach and mostly just have fun.
PJ taught me to cherish life, not only in his passing, but also with the bright smile that he faced everyday with. He was fiercely loyal and would do anything for those he cared about. I have been blessed to be one of the many that knew PJ in his time here. In his passing, I have learned that life is a gift that is best shared with others. By simply starting every day with a smile, PJ was able to spread his infectious happiness. He was a remarkable young boy that we can all learn a valuable lesson from.
So Class of 2013 find your passion and run with it, life is too short to do otherwise. Push yourself to places you never thought you could go, be comfortable with being uncomfortable, create new friendships and cherish the old, but most of all do what PJ would want most… fill your life with laughter.
To the Class of 2013, know that PJ has never left us. PJ was with us as we graduated from elementary school, will be with you as you take your first steps down the aisle, and is here today turning his tassel with us. He hasn’t forgotten about us and is proud of each and every one of you. He’s looking down on us today as our most beautiful guardian angel and I know he is smiling at what we have become and looks forward to seeing what amazing people we grow to be in the next four years.
Adapted from author, John Green, PJ’s passing was the fault in our stars, yet I am thankful for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. He gave us all a forever within the numbered days, and we are grateful.