First, But Last

a commencement address


Anni Kuningas delivered this commencement address at the graduation ceremony on May 14, 2022.

1,363 days ago, we cracked open the cover of a brand new chapter in our lives. And now, we’re minutes away from turning the very last page. Fellow friends, family, staff, and community members, I’d like to thank you for joining me today in celebrating this amazing milestone. We finally made it!

When I was a sophomore, I got my very first C on a test. Little did I know that just a few short years later, I would cry tears not of sadness, but of pure joy, for that same C. Now, high school has been full of firsts just like this one: first Friday dress-up days, first times singing Sweet Caroline. First daily fire alarms, first traumatic driving lessons. Even, to our delight, a first pandemic. But right now, we’re not here to focus on those firsts. We’re here today because soon, every part of this high school experience is going to become a last

This is our last time all together, our very last day as highschoolers. For me, that still hasn’t sunk in. For my mom, she’s probably crying somewhere in the audience. You’re not alone, Mom. 

So, the big question of the day is “Now what?” For many of us, we’ll head to college. And I hope your wallets are ready, parents, because a Comic Art degree isn’t cheap. Others will fight for our freedoms, take time to travel, or kickstart a career. And some of you probably wish you could bribe Dr. Koch to let you stay just one more year.

But, it is time to leave these four years behind. You cannot undo your embarrassing freshman haircut. You cannot un-fail your chemistry tests. You cannot un-fall down the stairs. You cannot change the past, but you can remember it, respect it, reflect upon it. 

And the truly beautiful thing about this day is that the untouched future that looms before you is no one’s but your own. It is your turn to be selfish. You pushed through impossible exams, early mornings, tough practices. You deserve the freedom to choose whichever doors you worked so hard to open up. 

However, let’s not forget to recognize those who helped us get here. Thank you, parents and guardians, who put up with our teenage angst, who inspired us to bring back the scrunchie, the mullet, and yoga pants- who turned us into slightly more responsible humans. In a few short months, you can finally turn our bedrooms into your home offices. 

Thank you, teachers, for understanding that dogs can eat anything from homework to gym uniforms, for being shoulders to cry on even when your exams were the reason for our tears. But, most of all, thank you for showing up for us, with passion and encouragement, every single day. You have inspired us to make the world a better place.

And so, this is it: the time to start confronting ourselves with some of the most difficult questions of adulthood, like: “What does fabric softener really do?” and “Do I know how to cook anything besides ramen noodles?”…It’s time to start asking ourselves what kind of change we want to instill in the world. We are more capable than we know.

Because, although it’s daunting, this is our last day as high schoolers, and tomorrow is our first day as whatever we choose to become. And I want each and every one of you to know that no matter who that person is, no matter how much adversity you face, no matter how long it takes, you will be just fine- because if you survived the last 1,363 days of one of the toughest high school experiences of all time, you can survive whatever comes next. And if all else fails, we always have our parents’ basements as a backup plan. 

Happy Graduation, and thank you.