RFA salutatorian: ‘Don’t be afraid to be you’


Rome Free Academy salutatorian Rafael Rivera offered these words to the Class of 2021:

“A few months ago, I found out that my 18th birthday would be one of the most stressful days of my life. Not because of any 18th birthday social custom, or the pressure of acting more like an adult every day, but because I would have to stand up here and give this speech. 

On that note, I’d like to wish my twin sister a happy birthday and dive right in. 

When I found out that this speech was supposed to be under four minutes long, my first thought was something like, that’s way too much time for me to stand up in front of everyone. But I am grateful that you’re all here to witness such an important milestone for the 300+ people in front of you. 

Three weeks ago, graduation was just a mark on the calendar that signified the end of four years of high school for the RFA class of 2021. It was depressing to look at, to think that next year, I’ll be in the class of 2025-2026 at college. 

To me, it’s a pretty good indicator that you’ve left your mark when you take a look at any group you were a part of — be it a sport, club, or any section of RFA’s incredible music department—and it brings a tear to your eye as you try to imagine it without the seniors. As I reflect on everything I’ve been a part of at RFA, I’m in equal parts sad that I have to leave all that behind, and excited that new students will get to step up and take their year to lead and to shine. 

But leaving four years behind doesn’t mean forgetting about all of the people we’ve met—your teachers, your friends, and your peers—that have all shaped us into who we are today. 

Right now I’ll take a moment to call a few of you out. Mrs. Richardson, Ms. Downs, Ms. Gleason and many others: you’re all amazing teachers, and I can’t thank you enough for believing in all of us. To every staff member of the RFA Art department: I’ll miss having such an uplifting family in the art wing, and I won’t forget anything you’ve done for me. Thank you to my family and friends, who have done more for me than I have time to list. Finally, a huge thank you to everyone in the RFA music department and Winterguard staff: Lindsay Mogle, Jamie Mazur, Brian Schidzick, Melissa Rashford, and especially Mr. Meiss for giving me confidence in everything that I do. 

Confidence in everything except giving this speech. The good news is, in another minute I’ll be done and we’ll all be relieved. But apparently it’s not good to give a speech without some advice.

So here’s what I want you all to take away from my experience in high school: you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing. Everywhere you go, you’re going to find people who expect a lot of you, people who want you to do everything and to do it flawlessly. Now, sometimes that can be uplifting if you’re up to the task, but don’t let any failure bring you down. Keep in mind that, everywhere you go, there are also people who are willing to help you out, to lend an ear, and support you in any other way that they can. Don’t let all the pressure block out the positive voices that surround you. I guess what I’m really trying to tell you is to stay happy by listening selectively, which I’m sure is frustrating every parent in the audience. Slight revision, then: just stay positive, stay happy, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to be you. 

Now that we’re pretty much done, I can say that it’s really hard to cram four years of life into a four minute speech, and while I would never consider asking for more time to speak, I can’t help but wish I had a little more time with all of you. 

God bless you all.”


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