Good afternoon: teachers, students, staff, family, friends, the class of 2018.
Here we are now. Finally, we’ve all gathered in this hall with not a feeling of dread, like those times we’d be told to upload our extended essay plans or hand in our CAS portfolios, but with a feeling of anticipation, excitement and most of all, fulfilment.
Three years ago, we gathered in this school for the very first time. I remember the first day of school in the fall of 2015. My class, 15KA played this “getting to know each other” -game in a classroom on the fourth floor. We formed two circles, and each time the circles rotated, we had to face our new classmate and ask them a question. I was a very creative and witty student back then, so I asked my classmate an unexpected question that I’m sure none of us had ever been asked before: “Why did you decide to do the IB?” No, that question was not special. But the answer was. My classmate said he just wanted to challenge himself. And I believe we’ve all fulfilled that promise for ourselves during these three years.
Not only have we challenged ourselves, but we have grown. Pre-IB: we were 15-16-year-olds, young and enthusiastic, exactly the type of students you would picture when told to think about incoming freshmen. One quality separated us from the others though. We were not afraid to voice our opinions. During one of our classes a couple months into the school year, a teacher told us they had never had a pre-IB class that could be so loud during lessons. We took great pride in that. We also had a 24-hour camp at the school. We were packed into classrooms together, half of us not having a proper mattress, none of us getting enough sleep, everybody waking up with bags underneath our eyes the next day. What can I say, this only foreshadowed our future.
But during the first year we still stuck to our own classes KA and KB. It was not until the actual IB started that we became this large mass of students known as “iipparit”. We were knit closer together, experience by experience. The old dances, our study groups, volunteer work. And let’s not forget about our trip to Cambridge. For many of us, that was a taste of the boundless freedom young adults should be able to experience. We were together in a different country, many of us already 18 years old. We ate dinner at the Eagle, the restaurant where Watson and Crick celebrated their discovery of DNA structure, we attended lectures at the university, some of us even experienced the nightlife of Cambridge students. For me, that trip sparked a lot of “what-if’s” in my mind. Sitting in a lecture theater, listening to a talk about fractals, I allowed myself to think about one of my what-if’s. What if I, one day, was a student at a prestigious university? What if this was my everyday life?
But soon we were thrust back to reality. We had our first mock exams, and a summer of procrastinating starting our extended essays, we came back to start our last year of the IB program. Feels like yesterday that we opened the wooden doors of the school with a coffee cup from R-kioski in our hands and nodded to our friends as a greeting. The best kind of greeting was when your friend looked you in the eyes and said “I haven’t started the assignment either”. But in all seriousness, we did get our papers done. We finished an enormous amount of IA’s and written assignments and lab reports. Each time you would go to the library, there would be at least one IB student standing beside the printer, listening to the calming sound of it, staring at the once white papers that were now filled with evidence of our intellectual capability.
Inevitably, all of us experienced disappointment and obstacles. Whether it was a lower grade than you expected or a Turnitin index that was way too high, we have learned from our mistakes. We’ve learnt perseverance, we’ve learned that in order to succeed you must fail, and we’ve learned that maybe we should actually read Jane Eyre instead of checking Sparknotes the night before. But I must say, one of the largest disappointments during these three years was before “penkkarit”, when our homeroom teachers revealed us some horrific news: instead of having two trucks for the entire IB class, we only had one. Despite trying our best to bribe ourselves some more space, in the end we had to settle. Indeed, on a freezing February day, the 45 of us climbed into a truck with our costumes on, bags of candy in our hands.
It was crowded. It was fun. It was cold. It took forever. In the beginning, we all had the time of our lives, dancing and shouting and hugging. Time passed, and some of us started feeling too cold. Some of us felt dizzy. But the truck kept moving. It would get stuck in traffic and then move again, and just when we thought we would drive back to the school, we got stuck in the next traffic light. After 2 hours of driving, we were finally done. Likewise, after three years of slow progress and several obstacles, we are finally here.
One idea that I try to live by is that your journey tells you a lot about your destination. And finishing the IB program only tells you that you are on the way to do bigger and better things. Whether or not you are satisfied with the grades written on your final certificates, you should all be proud of your accomplishments during the IB program, because you have made it to graduation, and finished an important chapter in your own story.
This could not have been done without friends. I remember going to a café with my classmate a couple of weeks before our extended essays were due. Before we ordered our coffee, my friend said to me: “Let’s just work on our papers and not talk to each other”. What a great way to spend time together, you may think. But it actually helped. It was easier to work on schoolwork knowing that someone was in the same situation as you. Friendships made this journey a lot more bearable.
Of course, we all owe a massive thank you to the teachers, the principal and the coordinator as well. Without you, we would not have the knowledge we have today. From you, we’ve learnt that it is not only important to study textbooks, but to learn and cooperate outside of school. From you we’ve learnt that sometimes taking time for mindfulness and taking care of yourself is more important than perfecting an essay question. From you we’ve learnt that when a poem says “The sun does arise and make happy the skies”, it may not mean that it is the morning and the sun rises, but it could be a reference to at least ten other observations about the world. From you we’ve learnt, that if we’re ever asked to analyze that quote from poet William Blake, we can walk on center stage and own it.
We also could not have done it without support from home, our families, who may have had no idea what “IA” and “WT” and “TOK” abbreviations meant, but supported us anyway. My mother has often told me that she could not have done the IB (my dad still insists he totally could have). Well, I think both of you kind of have now. Because I’m sure that my journey has taken a toll on you too.
So thank you, teachers and parents, for supporting our stories and shaping us into the people we are today. Talented, kind-hearted and thoughtful individuals, soon free falling into our own places in this crazy world. And thank you, my dear classmates, for letting me be a part of your stories. I believe they are all special and worthy of being heard and cherished, and today is the day to do exactly that. I wish all of you the best of luck in your future endeavors, whatever they may be.
Fanni Leppänen, 31.8.2018