If I Were Asked to Give a Graduation Speech, This is What I’d Say…

Five years ago I graduated from high school and it feels very unreal that it is now 2017. I was a graduate from my high school’s first class of the National Academy of Finance (AOF) which I give a great deal of credit for many of the professional skills I have today. When I was asked to address the graduating class along side my best friend, I gladly obliged. Here is Ashley and I at our AOF ceremony in 2012… 

I was incredibly humbled by the kind feedback we were given and the parents who asked us to share our words with them again via email. I thought I’d share with you today what I would say if I were asked to give a graduation speech…

Good evening! It is an honor for us to be here tonight to celebrate Chopticon High School’s Academy of Finance Class of 2017 completers!

We are completers of Chopticon’s very first Academy of Finance cohort, the class of 2012.

It was not long ago, that we were just like you, arguing with Mrs. Baden on why we needed to learn unnecessary skills like Excel and Elevator Pitches, getting in trouble in Ms. Bednarik’s class for talking, and getting roped into taking on leadership positions by Ms. Baden that we absolutely would never benefit from in the future.

I’m sure as you sit here tonight you feel many of the same emotions we felt five years ago. Proud. Excited. Perhaps a bit sad to be parting ways with a group of individuals that you have surely come to know as your AOF family.

You can trust us when we say that we have been exactly where you are sitting now. (Only we did it in glamorous matching red Academy of Finance polos) In fact we are here tonight to deliver some bad news to you all- they were right. All of the teachers and faculty that have tried their hardest to convince you to go that extra mile these past four years, and get you to do something you didn’t really want to do? They’ve been setting you up to succeed.

I can tell you without any reservation that you have already made a great decision to be “future ready” by participating in the Academy of Finance. One thing you all have in common is your determination to create a bright future, to succeed at whatever you set your mind to, and to make yourself proud.

Seniors, look around you. You did not come to this point alone. Your fellow classmates, your teachers, your school’s faculty and staff, your PARENTS, friends and families have helped you get here tonight.

ASHLEY: This fall, some of you will move out of state to attend four year universities, some will stay in Southern Maryland to attend the community college, others will join the armed forces or enter into full time employment. There you again will not come to success alone. Some of you may know exactly what career you want to have, some of you might have no idea, and many of you think you know what you want to do and are about to find out that your life plan sometimes acts more as a “general guide” than a strict road map. No matter what category you fall into,  the experiences of the past four years will help you along the way.

Of the three categories I just mentioned, I fell into the latter. During my four years at Chopticon I steadfastly assured Ms. Baden that I was going to go to college to become a journalist and one day be host of the TODAY show. I attended the University of Maryland as a double major with Broadcast Journalism and Finance. But over the course of four years my interests changed and my involvement in other activities on campus and classes outside my major are what ultimately lead me to the career I am in now, working in Public Affairs as a Campaign Execution Associate.

I could almost set up a trail of dominos to show you how I got from being a Residence Hall Association Senator, to working for the Department of Resident Life, to being the President of my sorority, to the Social media director for the League of Adventurous Women, to getting two very reputable internships and a fellowship in college. Each activity I participated in and leadership position I held taught me something about myself. And I took that lesson and applied it to the next one. The name of the organization or the title of the position I held was never the most important thing I took away. It was the new experiences and connections I gained that provided me with a strong foundation of knowledge and a diverse network of people, which lead me to finding success in the most unexpected places.

As I was planning what to say tonight, it made me look back on what has drawn me to the field I am in now, as it is so far from what I had planned for myself back in 2012. I realized that so much of what helped me to succeed in college was part of a foundation laid in high school through the Academy of Finance and FBLA. Each of you are entering the next phase of your life with an advantage; you will quickly realize that many of your fellow students have not had the same level of education on real world skills and knowledge that you have. Though neither my degree or career are strictly finance related,that does not mean that I don’t use that knowledge on a daily basis. Because in between classes and work is this little thing called life. And you are going to need to know what they are talking about when you have to fill out your 401k paper work on your first day of work. And when they ask you if you want to participate in the Employee Stock Program. And you’re gonna need to know how to put together a budget for yourself so you can figure out how much you can afford in rent and what kind of car you can afford to buy so you can drive yourself to your job. And if you can really master a budget, then you can do the fun things like go on vacation, without racking up credit card debt.  

And then you just might be like me, and think that you’re not going to need any real business knowledge for your job, because after all you didn’t take a job in finance. I’m in public affairs. I spend my days making cool websites and tracking email metrics. And then one day you just might get put on an account that focuses solely on tax reform and then, well,  all just comes full circle.

So, my point is, you never know where life is going to take you. Because none of you will be the same person you are now in four years. You might have the same plans four years from now, and you might not. And that’s ok. What’s important is to keep your eyes open to opportunities. Don’t ever close off a career path or tell yourself that it is too late to change direction.

So no matter how much you think you know what you want to do with your future, don’t discount the traits you already have that set you apart. Find the right time and place to let those shine, and always be open to  new opportunities.

LAUREN: I think that the biggest mistake you can make leaving high school is to assume there is only one way to succeed. When I left Chopticon High School, I attend the College of Southern Maryland and received my Associates degree. I then transferred to UMUC online and worked full time. At the time, I felt like I was maybe missing out by taking online courses. At the time, I felt like the only way to succeed was by leaving Southern Maryland and attending a four year school. I was wrong, and I came to learn that over my first year. Taking online courses gave me ample time to do other things that advanced my career and education. By taking online courses, I finished my Bachelors degree in three years instead of four.

Online classes allowed me to take a full time job with a small business defence contractor. As Ashley noted, one opportunity lead to another, just like dominos.

What is more important than the name of your school or the title of your major is what you participate in and the dedication you give.

Mrs. Baden asked us to talk about why you should be involved in college, I’m going to tell you that there is not one specific thing you should or should not participate in. There is not one correct way to reach success. But lI’ll do my best to share with you a few things that worked for us.

  1. Networking! I know for a fact you’ve been told to network over your four years in AOF, and I know you’ve had practice! This world is small and you never know when you will need something from someone, or even when you could help someone else. Gain the courage you need to make connections and attend events. Attend events professionally and for fun. After you make a connection, be sure to cultivate that relationship. Keep up with the people you meet and don’t always expect to gain from them, consider what you can offer them. This will hold true for not only your professional relationships but the new friends you will make.
  2. As Ashley mentioned about being open to opportunities, use this time to explore interests. While in college I joined a business evaluation team. We were given a business’ financial statements and as a group needed to provide our advice on what the business was worth. I very much enjoyed it, however learned quickly I didn’t want to do this for fun.
  3. Lastly, you are going to be pushed outside of your comfort zone and you’re going to need to face that. Depending on your personality you may have one of two challenges. For me, I find it very difficult to turn opportunities away. I tend to say yes to everything! Full time job? Sure. 18 credits a semester? Sure. Lead a women’s group in DC after work in St.Marys? Sure! Be the President of a finance club? Sure. Very quickly I was in way over my head and I could not perform any of these duties well.. I learned the hard way that you can’t say yes to everything, nor should you. On the other hand, it may be difficult for you to take on new challenges and you may naturally be inclined to say no. You will need to learn to say yes and power through the fear that can come with that.

Remember, be open minded to opportunities because they often present themselves where you’d least expected or planned for them to occur.  

We leave you with a final thought from an African Proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” 


















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