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Each year, we are fortunate to have City Academy alumni speak at our graduation ceremony. This year, Sydni Hall ‘11(MICDS ’17, Loyola University Chicago ’21), sister of this year’s Milton L. Mitchell award, Steven Hall, had the special honor of addressing her brother’s class.

Good evening, I am Sydni Hall, and I am so very honored to have been chosen as the alumni speaker for City Academy’s Class of 2017 graduation ceremony.  This class is very special to me, as my brother, Steven Hall, is among the graduates tonight.  As he completes his elementary school journey and transitions into secondary school at my alma mater, MICDS, it feels incredibly special to share this moment with you.  My brother recently performed a poem at City Academy’s Poetry Night.  The poem was about a little turtle entering a new pond, adjusting to new surroundings, and eventually forming life long bonds with other turtles in the new pond. I found this poem to be so very profound, so I asked Stevie if the poem was about himself.  I was shocked when he told me the story was about me and my journey through MICDS.  As the only person from City Academy, joining a class of 164 students, to form the MICDS class of 2017, was a very difficult adjustment, so I related completely to the turtle’s struggle. As Steven and his classmates complete their elementary school journey and transition into secondary school I hope my words provide you with insight into how to move through this next chapter in your journey.

During my first year of middle school, I had no idea what to expect from my secondary school experience.  I didn’t have a clear idea of who I was or what I was passionate about because throughout all of elementary school, I defined myself by my academic achievements.

Most of my old City Academy teachers still tease me about my infamous breakdown in 5th grade when I told them that if I don’t get high ERB scores I won’t go to secondary school, which means I won’t be able to get into college and then I won’t get a job and I’ll be homeless.  All I knew was that I loved to learn and I wanted to make sure that my grade reflected the hard work I was putting in.  What I didn’t realize was that I was stifling my own growth.  I failed to be involved in the world around me.  I refused to join clubs and other activities that would allow me to grow and express myself.  So while my grades were great, I wasn’t finding fulfillment. When I was your age, I wish I would’ve realized that going to school is this incredible experience because it’s not just about the books you read or the science experience you complete in labs.   Don’t get me wrong, grades are a crucial part of school; however, the truly crucial part of school, is balancing the demands of academic success while being involved in the community around you.

It was during my freshman year, that I began to understand that to be truly successful, I needed to chart my own path and find my voice.  This is challenging because the people that you interact with might try and push you in a different direction, but you must have the strength and individuality to remain true to yourself.  In 9th grade, I decided that I would join the diversity groups at my school. I went to my first conference in the beginning of my freshman year.  I was drawn to diversity work because I met interesting people that had varying views of the world around us.

None of my friends understood why I would want to be involved in a program like this, and they urged me to do something else since I would be the only one attending from our “friend group.”

Deciding to take this new path changed so much for me.  I learned a great deal about myself and others that I wouldn’t have known if I had listened to the people discouraging my growth as a young activist.  Now, as a senior and co-head of the Identity Diversity Committee, I have had the opportunity to lead great movements within our school while also facilitating important conversations within our community.  This entire experience has taught me that if you listen to the demands of others, forsaking your passions, you’ll never fully live your life.

Like all of you, I am transitioning, and will be a turtle entering a new pond this fall at Loyola University Chicago.  Remember to find your passions early and allow for them to guide you to happiness and fulfillment.  Congratulations Class of 2017, and I wish you nothing but the best in all of your future endeavors.


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