LJ Casenas’s graduation speech: Success and failure, two sides of same coin


We made it people! It’s surreal, isn’t it? Graduation. I still remember being in my elementary school computer lab and wondering why my password had “2022” in it. Well, it’s 2022 now, and look at us. In our graduation caps and gowns, sitting alongside our closest friends and family, falling asleep in the middle of my speech – which I’m fine with! No, not rude at all. It’s cool. Anyway… I genuinely feel like we’re so much more than the PMHS graduating class of 2022. I’ve known most of you since middle school, some since my days at Hutch, and a few of you I even met in preschool.

We’ve spent most of our lives around one another, and made friendships and connections that will last far into the future. Of course we’re more than the class of 2022. In fact, I’d like to think of us as a family, and a tight-knit one at that. So from one family member to another, I want to congratulate you. I want to congratulate you for your perseverance through the pandemic, and any personal conflict you may have endured. For the care you give out to one another, freely. For the effort you’ve put in every day in order to reach today. And for all of the success you’ve had so far, and for your continued success in college and beyond. 

I say that last line with a grain of salt, though, because I feel like it’s not telling the whole story. I mean, what’s success without a little, or a lot, of failure? They’re two sides of the same coin, are they not? For every one of your accomplishments you hold dear, I can guarantee you there is a mistake or regret that you actively try to push away. Trust me, I have a few of my own.

I wish I went out more, I wish I was more active in our community, I wish I didn’t quit science research after the first year, I wish I joined chorus or did speech and debate, or tried out for the basketball team. I wish, I wish, I wish I would’ve done so many things – it’s excruciating. But why tell you all this now? What’s the point, when we’re about to graduate and move on with our lives? 

Well, for one, I want to give out a reminder to you. We’re family, after all. And are we really family if I don’t give random pieces of advice you really don’t care to hear at this specific point in time? That’s what I thought. I just wanted to remind you that there is no time limit to failure. We’ve all heard that the only constant in life is change, and with change, inevitably, comes failure. It’s a grim reminder, I know, but one I feel it’s imperative to remember as we head into the most formative years of our lives. But, it’s not the reason why I’m standing up here today. 

I’m standing in front of you because I’m genuinely happy with the person I have become, even while carrying all of the baggage of my frustrations around on my back. Because just as there is no time limit to failure, last time I checked, there’s also no time limit to success. Don’t let go of your past regrets or mistakes, and be aware of the inevitability of your future ones. After all, what is their purpose if not to act as learning experiences? Carry them with you, and learn from them. They’ll make you stronger – us stronger, collectively.

They’ll mold us into the next politicians, the next educators, scientists, actors, actresses, or whatever you aspire to be! Our children’s history textbooks will be written by us – our bright future is written by us – if only we could make mistakes and learn from them too. History repeats itself, but mark my words, that ends with this generation. Uvalde, Buffalo, Parkland and Sandy Hook end with this generation. Injustice ends with this generation. If only we could make mistakes, and learn from them too.

And so, as my time speaking to you comes to an end… some of you are finally waking up! Perfect timing, too. I would once again like to congratulate all of you on your successes: past, present, and future. But I’d also like to congratulate you on your failures, for acting as their motivation to begin with.

LJ Casenas was one of three students chosen to speak at Saturday’s graduation ceremony based on speeches submitted.