Leah Sherbansky’s graduation speech: ‘Let these tiny and seemingly insignificant moments spark your accomplishment cascade’

Now that we’re here, I’d like us all to take a moment to think about our outfits. The cap and gowns we’re wearing, the suits and the dresses—all so very coordinated and thought out—for the most part. Many of us have been planning to wear these outfits for weeks; and then there are some of us who rolled out of bed as if it were any other school day and threw on whatever was most convenient, knowing it would be hidden under a cap and gown. Whether you’re one or the other, or somewhere in between— we’re all signing out wearing blue, white and yellow. 

We all blend in uniform today. But, for me, that’s the opposite of what my four years of high school have looked like. Throughout four years of high school, I never found complete consistency in my day-to-day life. Even sitting down in my room to write this speech shortly before the first due date (as usual), I never knew how long I’d stay up at night pondering an unfinished task before checking it off. Unpredictability is always predicted. 

I’d like to share a secret with you. Glancing around my room, filled with theater, research and forensics speech paraphernalia, I found one task completed on time before any of my other assignments: my upcoming outfit. Snow or sunshine, each night before going to sleep, I picked out an outfit for the following day. It’s nothing spectacular but a t-shirt and jeans. 

This small yet attentive task has been going since the start of high school, so at this point, it’s second nature. Though seemingly dull, accomplishing that one item before going to sleep steered me throughout high school. I had one less task to do before zero period, and this gave me a sense of achievement before even arriving to school. In my mind, it signaled some sort of accomplishment cascade. 

We see cascades all the time in nature. I learned this year in my AP Biology class that significant functions can begin with a tiny signal and short burst of energy. This triggers an entire pathway with a specific end goal.

While we’re here to celebrate the momentous, I also want to celebrate the small efforts. Those outfits I’ve laid out, even throughout the pandemic, helped me take on the most ambitious assignments. 

Simply having my clothes ready is something I celebrate because it allows me to make room for the greater and greater tasks. It’s an action that ties together the good days, the bad days and the “meh.” Let these tiny and seemingly insignificant moments spark your accomplishment cascade—bringing you closer and closer to an even larger task. 

But what if one outfit isn’t enough? Sometimes we need Broadway-style quick changes. I’ll always remember that day in junior year when I had just finished presenting in a suit at a science fair, then promptly changed into my “Edna” costume for “Bright Star” onstage, and back into a suit for a forensics speech tournament. It seems seamless, but behind every quick change is a dozen Pelham students and teachers who encouraged me to be a “researcher-actress-public-speaker,” all in one day. 

We all start off with a little help choosing our outfits. Soon, we take a step forward and go through emo or neon highlighter phases. Some phases disappear; some are here to stay. But in the end, we all leave our own stylistic footprint. My PMHS experience is embodied by the creative inspirations I’ve received, support webs I’ve fallen on and the baby steps I’ve taken to achieve the unpredictable. Today, these gowns we wear are not simply “phases,” but the culmination of countless efforts and struggles that we’ve encountered. 

There’s a sign in my house with a Lao Tzu quote that reads: “The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” I never fully related to this quote, given I don’t intend on walking a 1,000 miles anywhere ever, but, in a month, I do plan on traveling roughly 1,000 miles to begin college. Maybe your 1,000-mile journey actually starts with a million outfits! Baby shoes and trainer pants, jeans and cheer uniforms, suits and prom dresses, and soon we’ll be trading these caps and gowns for the next wardrobe change. 

Whatever you end up wearing, the single step you choose to take should be something small, like picking out an outfit, or walking your dog, or giving yourself a daily pep talk in the mirror. It’s ironic that we’re all trying to look like one another today in our caps and gowns, when in reality, neither our identities nor our experiences have been the same. Perhaps our 1,000-mile journey will not be defined by the outfits we wear, but the people we meet and the stumbles we take. Each stumble will advance our journey far beyond the four years at Pelham Memorial High School. Until then though, let us start with a small step each day. As we embark on our journey beyond these halls, let us remember that it is through the seemingly small steps that we develop the resilience and confidence to conquer the grandest challenges that lie ahead. I hope you all find time today to celebrate the little things that got you here and those that keep you moving forward. 

Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2023!

Leah Sherbansky was one of two students chosen to speak at Saturday’s Pelham Memorial High School graduation ceremony based on speeches submitted.