Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Isaiah Graves’s graduation speech: ‘Take a risk, and even if it’s not a perfect fit, you gain more than you lose’

Isaiah Graves gives his speech at the Pelham Memorial High School graduation on Saturday. (Cristina Stefanizzi)

Parents, faculty, administrators and fellow members of the Class of 2024, welcome. Some of you know me as a four-sport athlete. I participated in track and field, basketball, football… and half a season of lacrosse… so maybe that makes me a 3 1/2 sport athlete. Sports have always been an important part of my life, but as I stand here, not in a uniform, but in a cap and gown, I realize everything that sports has taught me over the four years I’ve attended Pelham Memorial High School.

As a runner on the track team, I learned more than just how to run around in a circle… Although, at times in our lives, it will definitely feel as though we are just running around in circles. I learned to run toward a goal. To stay focused on the finish line. And that it’s more important to focus on what you’re running towards rather than what you’re running away from. Jimmy Dean once said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

On the basketball court, I learned how important it is to always take your best shot. Even if you miss, you always have the rebound. During summer league, Coach Courtien would always tell me to aim high when shooting free throws. Little did I know that would mean more than just a foul shot. More than just making it to the playoffs… and especially more than us making it to the county center… and that’s a good thing because we didn’t.

In football, we learn not to let life’s problems tackle you, though it may feel like it at times, especially when a 200-pound linebacker is sitting on your chest. Get up! The goal line is closer than you think! And don’t get set back and lose hope just because you may have failed in one game. The season isn’t over yet!

And then there’s lacrosse. (Pause for ten seconds, as if you learned nothing from lacrosse.) Just kidding. The thing I learned from playing lacrosse for half a season is the importance of ripping the duck. I have no idea what that means, and to be honest I had to look that up, but it sounded cool to say in a high school speech. Do not, I repeat, do not actually rip a duck. In lacrosse, “ripping the duck” describes what you are about to do or what you want someone to do. What I did, or wanted to do, was take a chance in a sport I didn’t know. So, to my fellow graduates, take a risk, and even if it’s not a perfect fit, you gain more than you lose.

It’s not just about the game but more about what type of character the game produces within you. It’s the stamina that has to be built and the connections that come with it; it’s the wanting to do more; it’s the desire to be more; it’s the faith and determination to win not only in a timed sport but in a lifetime.

Now, no athlete succeeds without a coach. My first coach and my best coach was my mom. So Mom, if I had a big container of gatorade right now, I would pour it all over your head. Metaphorically, of course, I don’t want to ruin your dress. But I’d save a little bit of the Gatorade for:

Mr. Kopstein

Mr. Beck and Mrs. Holmes

Mr. Schleifer

Mrs. Gruber

Mrs. Klapp

Callum Reen


Luke Green and Danny Green

Artie Viggiano Jr. and Sr.

Coach Courtien

And many more.

These are the people who taught me to take risks and be my best self. I hope all of my fellow graduates will take a moment today to find the coach in their life, the person who brought them to this moment, and thank them.

I’m honored to have learned from these coaches and captains who eventually allowed me to become a team captain myself. I hope that what I learned from them I was able to pass the torch to someone else so the cycle can be repeated.

As Deion Sanders once said, to be a good captain, you must “take the ultimate responsibility and sometimes that means making tough decisions. Don’t take those moments lightly, but don’t run from them either.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. We don’t all have to be captains. A lot of us can be role players. Many of us can be team managers. Most of us can be practice players. And some of us learn to be better players—better people—by watching from the bench—also known as benchwarmers. Whatever your place is, know you will always be successful, if you do your absolute best.

The Class of 2024 is full of many people that fit these descriptions and have displayed preparation, confidence, honor, loyalty, communication skills and lastly willingness to learn from others. We have all had many coaches in our lives who have told us there is no I in team, but there is an I in Pelicans. Today, we’re all Pelicans. Today, we all play on the same team for one last time. Today, Pelicans, we fly.

Isaiah Graves was one of three students chosen to speak at Saturday’s Pelham Memorial High School graduation ceremony.

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About the Contributor
Cristina Stefanizzi, Senior Editor
Cristina is a senior at Pelham Memorial High School. She is the class of 2023 secretary and the Editor-in-Chief of the PMHS Pelican Yearbook. Cristina is also the co-president/founder of the PMHS Breast Cancer Awareness Club, co-president of the Pelham Together Youth Council, and a president of the PMHS Operation Smile Club, as well as a member of the PMHS Italian Club. She also enjoys participating in the PMHS Concert and Chamber Choruses, as well as the Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theater Department. She is excited to contribute to the Pelham Examiner and hopes to continue journalism in college.

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