Lawrence North Valedictorian Katie Burgin
Photographer / Eli Beaverson
Like all other members of the Lawrence North Class of 2020, my senior year was upended by COVID-19. I ran cross country and track for Lawrence North, and my senior track season was canceled after a single indoor meet. I was a director for our school’s dance marathon, which raises money for Riley Children’s Hospital, but we were unable to host our final event.
My list of losses, like every other student’s, can go on and on. Yet, I still have much to look forward to. Next year, I am studying political science at the University of Michigan. Unless my plans change, afterward I will attend law school. COVID-19 may have derailed my senior year, but it cannot dictate my future. I must stick to the belief that while the world is chaotic and distressing right now, better things will come. I am a firm believer in finding the good in all situations, which is why I made that topic the focus of my graduation speech. The following is my speech, which I gave for Lawrence North’s virtual graduation on June 2:
“I do not have to remind you all that these are unprecedented times. We have been told that enough. I never imagined that I would be giving a virtual speech. But, to look for a silver lining, a camera is a lot less intimidating than a crowded coliseum. Plus, when I mess up, they can just edit it out. And so that is what I want to talk about — silver linings and clinging to hope and positivity in bad situations.
Just a few months ago, COVID-19 seemed like a distant threat. Our girls basketball team had just won a state title, and the boys were poised to win their own. Our student section was proven to be the best in the state. Our show choir was killing it at competitions, and the theater program had just put on “Great Gatsby.” Things were normal — arguably better than normal — at Lawrence North.
But then, of course, schools across America suddenly shut down. Instead of having prom and spring sports, we switched to e-learning and we struggled to submit AP exams online. The Lawrence Township community lost people we love, and we watched our families and friends fight sickness. We all felt — and still feel — the stress of these uncertain times.
But again, you have to find and appreciate the good in every situation, including unprecedented global pandemics. The good may be a small thing, like how you met your workout goal or how you made a new TikTok. It could be large. While self-isolation and shutdowns are annoying, they have saved countless lives and even led to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. That’s good, great even. The good is especially found in other people.
These past few months have brought out the best in many. Look at all the health care workers and other essential personnel, such as fast food employees and UPS drivers. Look at our teachers, who put in countless hours of extra work to help us keep learning and ensure we are ready for our future. Look all around our community. See how people still care for each other, see how people are still fighting for a better world — like when people ran to support Ahmaud Arbery or when they raised money for food banks, including Lawrence North’s paw pantry. The pandemic can’t stop acts of kindness, as proven by the Lawrence North kind week, and it cannot stop people from doing what is right.
And obviously, it cannot stop us from graduating. Yes, our live ceremony was delayed, but we still did it. We graduated. As our fan section tweeted, they just could not handle us for a full four years. So, Class of 2020, congratulations. You have all worked so hard to be here and nothing can take that away from you.
One important thing to do in a graduation speech is talk about what comes next. Now, our futures all look different, whether it holds college, the military, a trade school, a new job or something else entirely. I feel obligated to throw out a few clichés about the future, so remember to “follow your dreams” and “find your passion.” But what I was talking about earlier had a purpose, too. Throughout your life, throughout your future, find and appreciate the good, no matter how insignificant. Be the good. Because even when COVID-19 is in our past, other difficult situations will arise in our future. We will all face some form of heartbreak and adversity. We cannot change that, but we can change how we handle hardship.
I ran cross country throughout high school, and whenever it was pouring rain outside or blazing hot, our coach would harp on about how “you can’t change the weather, but you can change how you respond. You can change your mindset.” Obviously, we’ll be facing things infinitely worse than a muddy cross country course, but the moral still applies. Your whole life, try to respond with hope and kindness. Try to make the world a better place — it is our turn now. Thank you, and once again, congratulations.”