Tonight I was honored to give the keynote speech at Putnam Valley High School’s National Honor Society induction ceremony. Amazing to see over 40 new inductees! Here are the words I left them with.
Students, congratulations! I am honored to be here tonight to celebrate your success and welcome you into the NHS. Like many of you, I also grew up in PV starting my education on Oscawana Lake Road at the elementary school. I played on the big toy, I threw balls at the side of the middle school for Wall Ball games, I decorated the halls of the high school for color wars and was inducted into NHS on this exact same stage, 9 years ago. Earlier you heard my bio from Miss Penta, it all started here at Putnam Valley. Tonight I’d like to share more of my unofficial bio and three things I wish I learned sooner.
The Power of Choice
When I was inducted into the National Honor Society I didn’t understand what a great accomplishment and honor it was. I thought I was simply living my life doing the things everyone else was also doing. I didn’t realize the things I was doing was based on a series of choices I was making and my classmates were off making their own choices, building their own experiences and stories. I also didn’t realize others were paying attention to the choices I was making or how my choices would compound and follow me beyond high school.
Here’s a sobering statistic to remind us what the landscape looks like; in the United States, 1 in 5, 16–24 year old’s drop out of high school never receiving their diploma or GED. While we have little to no control over circumstance that life puts in front of us, you do have control over the choices you make. The skills you’re developed and displayed to be selected into the National Honor Society will pay off in what you do after high school, in your careers and continue with you throughout your life.
It’s not by chance or luck that each of you are on your way to beating that statistic, pushing beyond and graduating with honors. Being inducted into the NHS is an honor and the result of a series of choices you each made and will continue to make.
You CHOOSE to be hard working,
You CHOOSE to pay attention in class,
You CHOOSE manage your time effectively
You CHOOSE to build relationship
You CHOOSE to apply
Today the selection committee noticed and recognized the choices you have made; tomorrow it might be an admissions counselor, a future boss, a mentee or significant other who notices and recognizes your choices.
The next time you are faced with a choice pay attention; are you are it implicitly by not taking action or making the choice deliberately and purposefully.
Find And Embrace Your Superpower
Next is to find and embrace your superpower. Early in my career I had an excellent manager who shared these words of wisdom with me: there are lots of things you are capable of doing however don’t waste your time trying to perfect them all, instead focus on the areas you enjoy and knock out of the park. These are your superpowers and the muscles you want to continue to develop. As you advance in your career, working in more complex environments you want these skills to remain at the top, they will become your personal brand.
It was great my manger gave me this awesome advice but I had no clue what superpowers I had, if any. At that point in my life I had studied accounting for 4 years, been a CPA at PwC for 2.5 years and was deciding to walk away from it all. I restarted my career in a new industry and city, as a business analyst at Capital One. I was starting my career over, I thought I was at the bottom with no skills for this new role. This feeling of starting over would haunt me again two years later when I reinvented myself for the second time, jumping into Product Management in tech; again a new industry and job title.
Today, I can tell you that my superpower is to be a change agent; I decompose complex problems into smaller digestible components, I connect the dots between disparate pieces of information and rally people of differing options around a common goal. It turned out industry and job title don’t define my superpowers like they may for others. I call my career pivots “reinventions” but in reality I have always been a change agent just in different settings. I was only able to arrive at this superpower after looking at the collection of diversified experiences I had and finding the common thread.
As you finish high school and think about your next chapter, ask yourself if the environment you are about to enter will enable you to find and hone your superpower.
Relationships Last A Lifetime
This brings me to my last point: build relationships. While I do strongly believe you are your own best advocate, I am where I am today because of the relationships I have built, maintained and continue to grow. While mentoring in Philadelphia one of my students said it best “Your network is your net worth”, meaning, you can reach higher levels of success. when collaborating with others who share your similar values, than you would if you tried to approach life on you own. A perfect example is how I find myself here in front of you tonight, it’s because of a certain teacher’s nomination, thank you Miss Penta.
Miss Penta and my journey started over 10 years ago. Miss Penta entered my life as my English teacher (rescuing me from AP English, a class I was accidently enrolled in and for anyone who knows me a place I did not belong, I can barely spell my own name correctly), she later chaperoned both of my proms as the class of 2008's advisor, wrote my college recommendation letter, celebrated my graduation of the University of Delaware, the earning of my CPA, my move to Manhattan and so much more. Miss Penta has been a consistent role model and mentor to me since the day I met her, I couldn’t think of a better person to advise & lead this group of students. Thank you Miss Penta for being a mentor and advocate of mine as well as inviting me back to PVHS tonight. Advocates come in all forms from teachers, to coaches, to parents, to peers.
I encourage you to take the time to notice the relationships you are neglecting and the ones just starting out. The ones you choose to nurture will be there for a lifetime.
As the newest inductees of Putnam Valley’s chapter of NHS and allies getting started in your post-secondary education, I encourage you to make choices with purpose, define your superpowers, and build lasting relationships. I look forward to seeing where each of you go next and hope to hear you sharing your stories next.