Top Ranking Student Speaks Out Against Institutional Education in Graduation Speech


I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

There are the words from a graduating high school student. The top ranking high school graduate, at that. It’s not often that a graduation speech makes the news, but there’s good reason this one does. Continue below for more inspiration from the speech of Valedictorian Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 201o:

I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave…

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

The future is dark if we continue on with the norm, the standard our culture has been following for too long now. Erika’s speech highlights this very idea. Her words fill me with hope, and therefore I call attention to them here. But what does this have to do with sustainability?

Sustainability demands that have new ideas, look at things differently, and be the change we wish to see. If there are more Erikas out there in the world, then it gives me hope that we can achieve the sustainable future we so desperately seek. The world is ripe for change, and change is on the way with fresh thinking like this. That’s my hope.

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Image credit: Flickr via Oberazzi

  1. RAS

    Now, really, having read the whole speech, I think it’s okay, but the irony of slamming a system that gave you the education — including that wonderful teacher (and maybe there were others too, but that one in particular) — just seems to have escaped this young lady.

    Alas, “EDUCATION” is an easy target. No matter who is talking it’s “broken” in some way or another. If we could only agree on which ways it is broken, we could probably easily “fix” it. In the meantime, the adults have made education a political football. It is the #1 battleground between unions and the conservatives. It is also the favorite place of do-gooders wanting to inject their theories on childhood into the mainstream. It is also where we are trying to play out our battles over morality.

    With so much loaded on it, it’s actually amazing that we can attract anyone to work in these positions, or keep them there once they see how it all operates.

  2. Jones

    Maybe I had exceptional teachers, but I left school without a grudge, knowing I was who I chose to be and had never felt pressured to be anything else. I wasn’t the top of the class, just the top 7% in a class of 500+. Never did I feel I was at school because I was supposed to. I was at school to hang out with friends and find out where the parties were. Something tells me this valedictorian spent too much time worrying about school than friends and family and chose her speech as a time to lash out at a system she created for herself.

    This is just another example of the generation (yes, I’m generalizing) that feels like everything should be given to them rather than earned. I see it all the time and rather than give me hope for our future, it fills me with dread.

    I’m not saying we can’t use reform in education. I’m saying that real education starts at home. Life is not found or lived in a classroom. The teachers are our tools to better ourselves. Take advantage of the classroom where knowledge is given freely, but also take advantage of the world around you. If someone feels cheated by their free education, they should realize they have also cheated themselves by depending on one source of information.

  3. Kaibob

    Am I not getting it if my reaction is “what’s this kid whining about?” … does he think he came from a frigging gulag? Seriously, I’m all for better education, and I certainly had my complaints in high school, but this sounds like some kid who’s bored and has no clue how lucky he is to be growing up in a wealthy suburb.

  4. Amanda

    For any of you who do not understand where this young lady is coming from, perhaps the book, “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education” by John Gatto could shed some light.

  5. Bobby B.

    Amanda, I haven’t read any of Gatto’s books but some of his opinion pieces and the third-party reviews of his work are thought provoking. The basic question about a compulsory education system is whether or not its purpose is: (1) to allow intelligence to flourish or (2) to force intelligence to conform. I am not an educator, but have seen arguments for both possibilities.

    I have to agree with Ziggy that the accepted definition of “sustainability” will require independent thinkers with bright ideas. That being the case, one has to ask why environmentalists continue to push for solar and wind power. Both technologies are over a century old and both have proven themselves to have high input-versus-output costs with long ROI’s.

  6. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    I don’t know Gatto’s work, either… the ideas this student presents took me back to Daniel Quinn’s ideas about education in My Ishmael… ultimately, that schooling serves the second purpose Bobby mentions, that it doesn’t recognize at all how kids learn, and even (and this is, admittedly, radical) that it keeps young people out of the job market (high school, specifically).

    @Bobby… on solar and wind… as you well know, researchers are constantly experimenting with these technologies to address those very costs you mention… with solar, particularly, they’re getting close to parity, and there are some really exciting developments in the research stages.

    And, of course, the playing field is pretty tilted… internalize all the costs of fossil fuels (a necessary step to showing economic sustainability), eliminate the variety of subsidies, and the differences become negligible, or even turn in solar and wind’s favor. You could make the exact same arguments for our current energy sources, but because full costs are externalized, and these forms of energy highly and regularly subsidized, you can’t get an “apples to apples” comparison…

    Of course, solar and wind aren’t the only technologies being promoted… if we just implemented large-scale efficiency measures (which have pretty low costs and short ROIs), we could save a ton of energy and money.

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