Dream wild. Dream big. Dream often.

“Whether you think you can or you think that you can’t, you’re right.”

This is a quote that I have lived by my entire life. I learned that I am able to do anything and everything that I believe that I can do, and that there is no stronger power than the will to succeed. I want each of you to know that you are able to do anything that you believe is possible.

Good evening. I would like to thank Ms. Nikki for inviting me to speak tonight and thank the class of 2016 for allowing me to share a party of my journey that I have never shared with anyone before.

I know you have probably heard this before, but I promise you that it was not that long ago that I was sitting in your seat and listening to a graduation speech, not knowing what to think and not knowing what to expect. But I was more than eager to start the next chapter of my life while wiping back tears and being sad to call this chapter “finished.”

Looking back, I can honestly say that City Academy more than prepared me for my step of going to secondary school, as well as achieving my personal goals.

Today, I hope to leave you with three key messages:
1. There is no one definition of success.
2. There is no better time than the present.
3. There is no such thing as dreaming too big, even if it’s deferred.

I have to admit that when I was leaving City Academy, I did not know what to expect. I asked myself if I was really ready for the rigor of MICDS, if I would make friends there, and, most importantly, if I would have fun.

I was excited to move on to secondary school, but there was one barrier that I had to address. This twist is what makes my story different from most students that leave City Academy. After many conversations with my mother, debates with family members, and at the dismay of my teachers and peers, I decided to repeat sixth grade after leaving City Academy.

Now, I am unsure if you are aware of the stigma associated with repeating grades, the perceived sense of failure and disgrace, but for me it was a way of slowing down to regroup after my mother and I realized that I had some learning differences. Being diagnosed with ADD, dyslexia and memory capacity – whatever that is – I had some major challenges that would need to be addressed before reaching my full potential. While this may have deterred or depressed others, it added fuel to my passion.

In 2009, I found myself repeating sixth grade. I had to work extra hard and I logged many hours working on skill sets dedicated to improving my reading skills and standardized test scores. The upside to this experience was that I had the opportunity to share my limitations with others and overcome challenges that had silently given me trouble all of my life.

With the support of my mother and tutors, I learned to read phonetically which helped my confidence to grow. I also realized that although I had challenges, I did not and would not allow them to define me as a student or a learner. I was never ashamed or embarrassed. Instead, I felt empowered.

During my first year at MICDS, I realized that I was working much harder than my peers. This led me to the realization that there is not one definition of success. I now know that I do not have to fit into someone else’s definition of happiness or success. Most rewarding was when my mom would jokingly say, “My baby can read! You really can read!” And then wink and nod at me.

Since leaving City Academy, I have had many opportunities to prove myself academically in the St. Louis community, regionally, and nationally. Some of my success include scoring in the 95th percentile on the ACT, being admitted to 24 of the 28 colleges I applied to, giving back to my community by completing over 2,400 service hours since 2011, and being admitted into one of the most selective colleges in the United States.

Today, I can proudly say that I am a MICDS alumna and that I am part of the City Academy family. This family has a strong reputation and is something to be proud of.

When I say that there is no better time than the present, I want each of you to be fully invested in who you are and where you are in each moment of every day. Stay engaged, set goals, and create plans to achieve them. This is your moment to make new friends, explore next things, and learn something new.

As I prepare to attend Washington University in St. Louis, I am in the same shoes as you are. I have already started to embrace making new friends and the idea of learning something new every days. Class of 2016, be sure to keep in touch with your peers and City Academy. To this day, some of my best friends are people I met here at City Academy. They are people with whom I have laughed, cried, dreamed, and grew up. This place will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Remember: do not be afraid of being an individual. Be proud of where you came from. The pride and excitement that comes from being a City Academy alumnus has helped fuel my academic, person, and social journey.

Lastly, do not follow your dreams: chase them! Do not live your life: lead it! And do not settle for good: put the extra in extraordinary! I am proud of you, City Academy is proud of you, your families are proud of you, and most importantly, you should be proud of yourself.

In the words of one of the greatest college basketball teams, the Fab Five, “Shock the world!” And according to Kevin Garnett, “Anything is possible.” Class of 2016, the world is your playground. Get out there and get dirty in it.

Dream wild. Dream big. Dream often.




Alumna graduation speech given to City Academy Class of 2016 on May 25, 2016

Written and presented by Olivia Martin ’09 (MICDS ’16, Washington University in St. Louis ’20)

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