Be Phenomenal, or Be Forgotten

Ruth Sarai Pumarejo with her mom, Monica, having fun in SYF’s photo booth at graduation.

Our featured student graduation address of the week is  from Ruth Sarai Pumarejo from Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy at Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA.

She narrates her journey through high school, which ultimately led her to where she is today. We are excited where the next phase of her journey takes us!

Ruth received a four-year scholarship valued at $32,000. She will attend Endicott College in the fall, studying Business.

Ruth’s graduation address:

There is one major difference between average people and achieving people: their perception of and response to failure. Good morning, class of 2017. Before I begin, I would like to welcome my family, friends, teachers and those of you who have travelled a long way to be here today. You are special to me and have played a significant part in my life and in my academic journey. When my alarm clock went off this morning, a smile spread across my face and I thought, “Yes! This is it! Today I am graduating!” It’s funny because I use to think I’d be stuck in high school forever, but to my surprise, these last four years have gone by all too fast. Each year had its own ups and downs, its failures with its successes, the embarrassing moments, the coming of age moments, and the ones that made me, me. The next few minutes will be comprised of highly personal anecdotes I now plan to take full advantage of.

When we were five, our teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up. We answered with things like astronaut, president, or in my case, the Little Mermaid. When we were ten, they asked us again, to which we answered- actress, cowboy, or in my case, a writer. But now that we’ve grown up, our elders want a serious answer. How about this- “who cares and who knows!” This is not the time to make hard and fast decisions. This is the time to make mistakes, travel the world, fall in love and marry. You have the ability to change your mind and change it again because nothing’s permanent. So make as many mistakes as you can so that way someday when they ask us what we want to be we won’t have to guess, we’ll know.

Now to those of my classmates and teachers who have told me that I am the most “positive” person at the school… today I want to take a moment to tell you the part of my story that I oftentimes omit and shy away from when I am talking to friends and those that I meet. Before the PLA, I was an introverted girl who didn’t believe in herself. I was not sure how to live in the moment. And when you worry about tomorrow, it can be very difficult to live in the today. When I began my journey at traditional high school, I quickly realized that the environment was too big, and I simply could not find a place to fit in. Transitioning to high school life was not an easy task for me, and for many. It’s ironic, because the space is so big and people are bustling everywhere, but I still felt lonely.

But if only I could have had a glimpse of what my future was going to look like fast-forwarding 5 years, I then would have never imagined life to be as bright and beautiful as it is today. The life that I live now is unlike anything I envisioned God had stored for me. A future immersed with visiting foreign countries, developing new relationships and embracing the faith I practice today. For a while, my road was very bumpy and I had difficulty seeing when the road would clear up. But like I tell everyone, anything good takes time. And it is no question that one must go through rough patches in order to achieve great things.

Towards the end of my freshman year of high school, a miracle came. I met a tall man with a shiny, bald head who offered me an opportunity to recover the high school credits I needed due to my numerous absences. Of course, I was skeptical. Would I succeed at the PLA? What would happen once I recovered my classes? Would they send me back to the high school? Sure, I had my doubts, but don’t we all? The good thing is, I was able to connect with this human being right away because I was able to understand that he only wants the best for all of his students. After thinking about his offer, I consulted with my mom and told her that I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to see what would happen if I gave my best to succeed in school because I wanted to be someone one day. So like that, I waved goodbye to yesterday. And this here was the first lesson I learned and one I hope you’ll take home with you today. The lesson is that you create your own opportunities.

I’m amazed at the wonderful things that can happen when you have enough courage to lose sight of the shore. You can discover new oceans, and like the butterfly effect, my whole life changed because of that one decision. You know what they say about change- change yourself, and the world changes. After this, I found myself succeeding in many areas. My grades skyrocketed, I made new friends; I even started my own business. Essentially, I became the young woman that I had originally aspired so hard to be and gratefully am today.

At this moment, I will share my experience of what it was really like to enroll at the Peabody Learning Academy. From the first few days, I quickly learned that at PLA, we recognize that everyone learns differently. Some people learn best when there is a teacher giving a lecture at the front of the classroom, others prefer taking online courses or listening to audios. What fascinates me the most is that all associates at PLA respect each other and understand that everyone is different and that that it is okay to different. Here I was able to complete my high school credits in a shorter time span. By the end of April, I could come in and draw, or watch movies because I had finished my classes. There is no exact method of learning; everyone is different, and Simon Youth Foundation is starting a revolution around America by opening up more and more alternative high schools for the youth of today. Here, I learned more algebra than I ever would have anywhere else because the teaching is highly personalized. The best part is, I actually enjoyed it. Thank you Mr. Tanglis, for making that possible. Not every teacher is as patient as you and Ms. Murray are. Of the other things, I learned how to efficiently manage my time. In my opinion, my experience here was very much like college. I had to take my own notes and do my own research for the online classes; it was a very self-starting experience. Coming to PLA had its other perks too. For example, my peers and I would regularly go for a Starbucks run on the second floor of Northshore Mall after school. Those are the perks you can only have when your school is in a mall.

Next, I will summarize my four-year journey. Freshman year was the longest of them all. The puzzle of entering high school was presented before us. Most of us were nervous, anxious or scared. We became more concerned with what we wore and who we hung out with and less concerned with Polly Pockets and Pokémon cards. Like many of my classmates, I left the high school by choice in the spring of that year. Sophomore year was a blur. You are still an underclassmen so there is nothing new occurring and you just want time to pass by. So if you are like me, you try working at a home department store and hope that the time flies by. Thus, we coasted through sophomore year and soon, junior year came. We started exploring careers with Soren Balea, PLA’s career advisor. Some people found prom dates while others travelled overseas during school breaks to explore the vast and multi-cultural world we live in. Senior year came alas. Now, I’m not going to paint a shiny picture for you. That fall was a stressful period. New doubts had resurfaced. Our heads were filled with questions like “Is my GPA high enough? When are the deadlines for the SAT’s? Do I have enough activities in my high-school transcript?” Then, the three month college search began. I looked for colleges everywhere- from San-Francisco to London to Florida- everywhere except for home. Juniors and sophomores: do yourself the favor of not stressing out over college. I promise you that in the end, it will all fall into place for the very best. To my huge surprise, I ended up staying home, because well, home is really where the heart is, and also, where Endicott College is. There I will begin yet another journey and study what I love most: business, psychology and continuing, law. I learned this lesson the hard way, and it is that you don’t have to swing hard to hit a homerun, if you have the timing, it will go.

It turned out that the tall man with the shiny, bald head was and is none other than the director of the PLA. I’ll release the identity of the man because everyone here needs to know his name, Mr. Seith Bedard. Thank you for being the best teacher God could have ever given me. You are extraordinary and what you do every day for us is beyond words. The second to last week of school, my family and I drove into Boston and as I watched the city move beside me in pictures, I thought about Mr. B. All of a sudden, tears roll down my cheeks like an avalanche and I started crying like a newborn infant. I couldn’t believe that soon enough, I would be leaving the school that for as long as I can remember, had encouraged me to reach higher and to give my best. Mr. Bedard taught me many things that I will always value. He supported me in every academic decision I made and I cannot describe the sad, and overwhelming feelings I had as both my mother and I cried. The tears would just come out and they would not stop. I could not imagine what college was going to be like without Mr. B always guiding me on the sidelines. But sometimes, you have to let go because our planet is huge and there is even more opportunity that is waiting for us to discover. So we have no choice but to continue forth on our own paths and to keep to learning as much as we can.

Mr. Bedard, Mr. Tanglis, and Ms. Murray: I would be here all day just talking about you. Helpful, endlessly supporting, caring, funny, are some of the words that come to mind to describe some of the greatest people I’ve honestly ever met. You are quite unique. You have been here with me the whole way and I am so sad to have to let you go. But I am not saying goodbye. I’m saying I will see you all soon. Every now and then, I promise to visit and bring the three of you iced coffee and bagels, because that is how much I love you all. I have the highest respects to them, for they taught me how to see differently. You see, a good teacher explains, a great teacher inspires. Together they took my hand, opened my mind, and touched my heart, leaving me feeling all the more encouraged to go out and pursue my biggest dreams. A special thanks to Jess, for always listening to me and reminding me that we are all human beings and it is in fact okay to cry sometimes, as long as we always get up and get going.

Class of 2017, where are you? Make some noise!

I am weirdly going to miss all of the times that I had to ask Mr. T and Ms. Murray to turn the heat up because the weather at the PLA was very, very cold. Oftentimes, I’d come into school like an actual Eskimo, with a huge puffer coat, ear-muffs, gloves and a scarf. Families and friends, the entire PLA student body sitting around you can serve as testimonies to this. I will miss the funny, yet bright conversations between Ms. Murray and I, I will miss watching Netflix’s Life series with my classmates and laughing at the flying fish. Because there are fish that fly. Or more so, glide as I learned and there are monkeys that can crack gigantic tree nuts. I will miss eavesdropping on the one on one conversations about black holes in space and Carl Sagan between Mr. T and Luciano because, if you know me well, you know of I love space science. Mr. B’s HD military style lectures, the cloudy days and the warm days. I will miss the silence everyone would make in the lunchroom because someone had done or said something too loud, or broken a rule. I will miss the flexibility between my classes, I am going to miss it all so much. But I am going to miss you the most, my brave and hardworking class of 2017.

Of the many I have to thank, my mother is certainly at the very top. Monica Weinstein, I would like to thank you for all the times you went out of your way in my cause. I will always be indebted to you. Thank you for raising me to be the young woman I am now. You taught me to be headstrong, independent, faithful, and to have compassion for others. You are the purest love I will ever know. Mama, you are the motor to my dreams and one of the biggest reasons they proceed in full scale. No matter where I go, I will always remember to take you with me. You are beautiful as can be. Noor. (In Arabic that means light). When I could not sleep at night, afraid that things would not turn out right, you were there to hold me and sing to me.

Rony, you have been the greatest father I have come to know. For all these years, you drove me to school and everywhere else I needed to go. When I look back, you were always there. You are as constant as the sunrise, the moon and the stars; I can always count on you.

My parents are truly an excellent bunch. For 13 years, they have fed me delicious food from Gallo Nero, crusty pizza from Plum Tomatoes on midweek days just because and Dunkin Donuts Vanilla Chai. You are amazing, but not just amazing for these worldly reasons, you are amazing because you have shown me undying love in every down point in my life and for showing me right from wrong. For that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself.

Thank you to God. You have helped me find myself through the years and taught me how to breathe, and how to have ultimate faith in only you, the greatest. Thank you for teaching me to see with my heart, because you cannot see some of the best things in life, you can only feel them. Without God nothing is possible.

So now it is time to say goodbye to high school, and say hello to the future.

As I graduate today, I see this as a huge accomplishment, but I want to see more of my underclassmen up on here as well.

Whatever you do, (underclassmen) try to make the most of your time. It is so precious, and once you spend it, it will not ever come back. Strive to be the best versions of yourselves. Fly through the turbulence, and live life because you are a warrior. Remember that it is not about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It is about how much you can take, and keep moving forward. If you know what you are worth then go out and get what you are worth, but you have to be willing to take the hits. Fail forward like me, be a dream chaser and chase your dreams.

Thank you to my cousin Jabriela. You are also noor. I feel so happy knowing I can endow my life to you. That is not something you can say to everyone. You are my sister in faith, and in every other way.

A hug and thanks to the beautiful and hilarious Angelica Luna. You were my friend when I really needed one and ever since then all I see in you is light. I can always share an interesting yet good laugh with you. God bless you on whatever path you take.

I would like to shower upon everyone here a final note of gratitude and thanks for supporting me.

Today I feel immensely determined and empowered to live my life to the absolutely fullest. But I would not feel that way if it were not for all the love and help you have mercifully shown. The only thing left to say now is congratulations to the Peabody Learning Academy class of 2017 and to those who helped us get here. Think of it this way: the world we live in is plagued with dangers: Zika virus, global warming and facial acne. But despite all the odds, we still managed to graduate. So let’s give each other a big round of applause, because we did it!

Be phenomenal, or be forgotten.

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