Last year, on an unprecedentedly cold winter night, I sunk into the couch in my living room, opened up Netflix, and pressed play on Silver Linings Playbook.
That movie ended up introducing me to my favorite word: Excelsior. Latin in origin, it is the motto of the state of New York, and it means, “Ever Upward.” My obsession with words dates back to the beginnings of my education, but Excelsior has held its place at the top of the podium ever since I discovered it. Why?
Let me tell you.
In life there will be people that don’t understand you. There will be people that dislike you, that diminish your character, and that have a will to see you fail. There will be moments that you’ll feel like no one believes in you, and there will be moments that you might not even believe in yourself. There will be times that you’ll want to throw in the towel. There will be days that you’ll cry, and there will be days that the world will seem to cry with you.
But, there will also be people that have the utmost faith in you. There will be people that love you despite your flaws, that will root for you every step of the way, and that will celebrate your successes as if they were their own. There will be moments that you will want to freeze and live in forever, and there will be moments that you will look back on someday with the fondest of feelings. There will be times that you’ll feel pride in yourself. There will be days that you’ll cry, but it will be out of happiness because you’ve come so far.
Excelsior is knowing that in those seemingly hopeless moments, there will always be a beautiful circumstance awaiting you in the future. It’s knowing that sometimes you just have to make it your goal to get through the day, and it’s remembering that tomorrow holds endless possibilities. Excelsior is always striving to make your next step better than your last, and it’s doing so with courage, passion, and grace. Excelsior is forever looking upward with bright eyes.
At the beginning of this month I made a decision that I had been pondering over for quite some time. After reflecting on a beautiful senior year filled with lessons, memories, love, spite, tears, and nostalgia, I sat down at my computer and typed a commencement speech. At the time I didn’t know whether or not it would cumulate into anything, I just knew that it was begging to be written. The month ticked by, and more and more I started to tell myself that I wanted to do this. That I at least had to try.
And try I did.
I’m terrified of public speaking, but the speech I wrote that day trumped that fear for the time being. Throughout the month I practiced my tone, tried to make my voice less shaky, and after multiple attempts alone in my room I was able to make it through my speech without getting choked up. I believed in myself, but then I didn’t. People told me, “I would never do that in a million years, I would be so scared!” and people told me they couldn’t think of anyone better to speak at graduation. It was a long month of back and forth, filled with intense self-doubt, but also with an equally intense, burning desire to actually do this.
On Wednesday afternoon I read my speech before a panel of judges, and when I finished I remembered my favorite word as I exhaled one last shaky breath. I walked out of the room feeling proud of myself for overcoming a fear I thought I would never even have the desire to face. People believed in me, yes, but I didn’t know if I believed in myself. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, and knowing that I silenced the voice in my head that didn’t think I could do it eludes the meaning of Excelsior for me. I’m moving away from that girl that could never read anything she had written to anyone. I’m moving ever upward; I refuse to go back to timidness. I want my voice to be heard.
And it will be heard, guys. I actually did it. I’m reading that speech in front of thousands of people in just six short days. I’m terrified, I’m excited, and I’m honored. Representing the Class of 2016 on our final page is a goal I didn’t know I needed to achieve until I did. I wish I could go back and tell my fourteen-year-old self that this is my life because she never would have imagined this scenario. Ever.
Don’t stop believing in yourself. Don’t let people diminish anything you do. Keep setting goals that you’re afraid of. Don’t pay attention to that voice telling you, “can’t.” Remember that the bad days are bad for a reason. Keep persevering through them because something wonderful is just around the corner. Keep the faith. Keep moving ever upward.