Chandler Chang, May 23, 2019, Maricopa High School.

Maricopa High School graduate Chandler Chang delivered this valedictorian address to the Class of 2019 during graduation May 23. A Flinn Scholarship recipient, he has lived in Maricopa 14 years.

By Chandler Chang

Hello, Class of 2019. It is my absolute honor to be speaking here tonight to such a talented group of individuals.

I’m valedictorian and I don’t know how to drive, I’m so bad at cooking I’ll burn water, and I wrote this speech at midnight the day after I was supposed to submit it. If grades were an absolute indicator of success and potential, none of that should be true!

My name is Chandler Chang, but if you only know me from the media, then you might know me as Chandler “Change.” I’ve even received college letters with the same error. Yes, that’s a typo, please don’t make it again.

Before I go any further, I would like to thank everyone whose support made tonight possible. I would personally like to thank my family, friends and teachers for inspiring me to achieve the success I have found myself in today. On behalf of the class of 2019, I would like to thank all parents, teachers, staff, administration, school board members. Your support has empowered us to become the determined young men and women we are now. I’m sure it wasn’t easy putting up with us for four years, or if you’re the parents, a mild seventeen to eighteen years.

Preparing this speech has been a harrowing task. Just a few weeks ago I had no idea what I wanted to say, so I looked to my fellow Flinn Scholars for advice. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. I was desperate for ideas because my speech had to be submitted the next day, so I spammed our group chat. Anyways, here’s what they had to say. Keep in mind these are supposedly the brightest minds in the state.

“Just say ‘peace out y’all’ and sit down.” Too late for that. Someone suggested to “spill everyone’s tea.” I’ve been informed that it means to reveal everyone’s secrets. And lastly, “chug a bottle of apple cider and shout ‘Feel the Burn 2020!’” I’m not even going to pretend like I considered that one.

So, I’m back at square one, and when I reflected on our high school experience and the struggles we have all shared, I found the message I need you all to hear. High school has emphasized the importance of your grades, about presenting colleges this nice three-course meal of grades, test scores and, if they like dessert, extracurricular activities. Our teachers constantly encourage us to avoid this perspective that your grade is a measure of your success, but societal pressures always seem to prevail. It emphasizes grades so much that we pull all-nighters to study for a test or outright skip school to avoid taking the test. It promotes the idea that your grades are a measure of your worth.

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Your high school transcript only tells 10 percent of your story, if that. It doesn’t mention that while you were in school you were working two jobs and trying to support your family financially. It doesn’t mention that you have hundreds of volunteer hours at food banks, local churches or rescue shelters. It doesn’t mention that you’re an amazing, kindhearted person with a contagious smile – Dauvian I’m looking at you! Those kinds of things define who you are, your character, not a test score and not a column of letters on a page.

It’s a grim reality that society values that test score and column of letters more than those things. I think the system of awarding scholarships based exclusively on GPA, SAT scores and ACT scores is flawed, but colleges nationwide promote this. Even when such a system tells you otherwise, I urge you all to remember that your grades are not your labels.

I’m valedictorian and I don’t know how to drive, I’m so bad at cooking I’ll burn water, and I wrote this speech at midnight the day after I was supposed to submit it. If grades were an absolute indicator of success and potential, none of that should be true!

I know this advice might come across as condescending coming from the valedictorian, Flinn Scholar, etc., and I don’t want it to. If you feel that way, that means my message hasn’t reached you yet. At the end of the day, I’m someone who enjoys the company of his friends, someone who wants a well-paid and fulfilling job, but doesn’t have the clearest idea of how to obtain that; someone who wants happiness, someone who gets absolutely stressed out over testing and public events such as tonight. I just happen to do well in a classroom setting, and if you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you put forth your best effort.

I’m not here to devalue the concept of grades. If good grades and a college education are what you need to be successful, then absolutely go for it. I encourage you to do so. That being said, that can’t show every amazing quality you have. To those of us who are not college-bound, I’m sure we envy that you have a plan for life that doesn’t involve another four years of this, but now with massive student loan debt. To those of us that are college-bound, take what I said to heart, and remember, C’s get degrees! I mean, you are not defined by your grades.

Congratulations Class of 2019! I wish you all the best in your endeavors.


This address appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

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