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Be Awesome, Not Perfect by Ayo Okikiolu.

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Valedictory Service Speech, Centennial High School, May 2017

Hello graduands. Today is a big day. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity given to me to speak in front of all you V.I.C.s., Very Important Centennialites.

First and foremost, I would like to congratulate all of us; Congratulations. These few years we have spent together have been amazing. If there is something we need to know, it is that, We Rock! You made it.

Parents, wow, you have been there through it all. You have given us support, endured sleepless nights, been all over town, just for us; But you can be rest assured, we have graduated now! You can finally relax... ever so slightly. More than this day is ours as graduands, it is yours as our greatest supporters as well.

To our teachers, you have made learning an experience rather than a necessity. Every single staff member in this school is amazing. I will not mention any as I am afraid I might just have to name everyone. That would almost be as long as this speech.

On behalf of my fellow students, thank you, teachers, coaches, and mentors for making our experience great.

Life is not perfect. You probably know that. The truth is, there are a lot of things in life beyond our control. What we can control is our outlook on life, how we react to the people we meet, and the situations we face.

There is a story of two lions born of the same mother. One was caged and kept in captivity. The other was free to roam and grow in the jungle. When they compared the two after some time had passed, they found the ‘jungled’ lion to be strong, brave and capable. It now had a family and was truly the king of the jungle. The lion was awesome. The second lion, the ‘caged’ one, because of the isolation, could not exhibit any form of greatness. However, to the zoo keepers and hundreds who throng in everyday to watch him, he was perfect. Many times, perfection depends on what the world thinks about you. But friends, the moment you define your life by what others think about you, you lose your identity and become someone else. You should know what your strengths and passions are and stick to them. If you do not know them yet, please search them out and BE YOU. Steve Jobs once said, ‘And most important, have the courage to somehow follow your heart and intuition.’ There is absolute truth to that statement. Let us not stay within the fence, but be free.

A turtle observed a rabbit scurrying through the grass. He wished he could run as fast. The rabbit noticed gazelles galloping in a field. She wished she could run as fast. The gazelle saw a cheetah breezing through the land. He wished he could run as fast. You would think the cheetah would be the closest to perfect. No, far from it. She admired the turtle and how long he lived. These are all different animals with different strengths and abilities. There was no need for them to compare themselves to others. Sometimes we do the same. We compare ourselves with anyone who appears, better than we are. Since we cannot achieve faultlessness, a person looking for perfection will never find it. Someone else will always be better. Truly wonderful people, like you and I, are those who identify their dreams and pursue them. They are not people who identify their inadequacies by comparing themselves to others. Truth be told, there are a variety of students in Centennial High School, each different from the other. Each of us has different strengths and abilities just like the animals in my analogy. We all bring different things to the table even things as “little” as a genuine smile. We have achieved so many great things in the last three years: We have alumni of the Junior girls’ basketball team in this auditorium who have won four championships in five years, there are also the rugby guys who were provincial champions last year in Division I. The school also has clubs; the Key Club, Student Council, Leadership, Yearbook Club as well as a plethora of other clubs that affect the school positively. The Sheldon Kennedy Hockey game fundraiser was amazing, the teachers somehow won against the students. Construction and woodworking produced a number of wonderful pieces. Drama productions are amazing and the school’s band program is award-winning. The artwork, music, innovation and creativity that stems from this school is mind-blowing. The numerous food bank drives, the Terry Fox runs and coin races we have undertaken, as well as, the many students and staff who have saved lives by giving blood shows a beautiful side of our school and graduating class; our selflessness. I am certain that everyone in this room has at some point in the past three years made somebody’s day by just being there. These collective achievements make us awesome and will forever bond us together as coyotes.

Fellow graduands, seeking perfection is like a sprinter having to cross the finish line an infinite amount of times; every time he nears a win, the finish line is moved a hundred meters back. Perfection is many times unattainable. Certainly, a person can get a perfect score on a test. However, in life, perfection has no definition and no grade. This is why it is so difficult or rather impossible to attain.

The school has an annual dodgeball tournament. In my grade eleven year, which was my first year in the school, one of my friends convinced me to join his dodgeball team. I had nothing to lose, so, why not? Everything that could go wrong went wrong. My friend was absent from school. We had to play one man less. My team was also badly attired for the sport. Our game had to be moved to the very last spot. We considered forfeiting. We eventually decided to go down fighting. Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a fight. We lost before you could say, ‘Pinata’.

This is not a story about losing in a dodgeball tournament. It is a story about perseverance. It is about doing what you have never done before; it is about not being afraid of failure; and if you say it is about being awesome, I completely agree! Even though we lost in the end, we felt great. We did the right thing. The Oxford dictionary defines being awesome as being impressive and wonderful. When you persevere in the midst of a challenge, you are impressive. It is even more impressive if you triumph. We didn’t triumph but we lost while giving our best. As Denzel Washington said, ‘Nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.’ We fell forward. That was all that mattered.

People who seek to be perfect focus so much on their mistakes that they miss out on their successes. More importantly, they miss out on the people around them and the moments in life that matter. What a great difference. In being passionate, persevering, and not just striving for perfection especially in life, dear friends and colleagues; you can get through any challenge that comes your way. Don’t let the world tell you otherwise.

Friends, I believe I have a recipe for being awesome and not perfect. It stands for *can I have a drum roll…* COYOTES; did you hear me? I just said COYOTES!

C- Cultivate your minds, be careful what you think about, the books you read... Let what you need to do be what you always think about. Your mind is like a farm, be in charge of the seeds planted there, don't give others the responsibility. Read books and access materials that add to you rather than those that hinder you.

O- Offload the past. The past is the past. The successes, the failures, the disappointments, what people have said or not said; none of these is worth your time and efforts. To be truly free, you need to look forward. You face backwards when you focus on the past and this is a sure recipe for stumbling or falling. Y- Yield to and always live in the present. When the present is well handled, the past will be dissolved and the future will be prepared for. The present is what you have to trade as the currency for all you want in life. The present is gold. Invest in it wisely.

O- Open doors yourself. Nobody will open it for you. Create opportunities for yourself. Stop blaming other people for not creating what you want. They have their own issues. You should know what you want in life, so go for it with all the resources you have and people will follow you naturally. When life’s doors are closed shut, open them. It’s how doors work.

T- Team up with the right people. For everywhere you want to be in life, there are people who are already there and those who are on their way there. Those are your friends. You have to go out of your way to find them, befriend them and getting to your destination in life will be easy.

E- Expand your Horizon! What do you see? Limitations, the walls of this school? The walls of your stereotype, race or do you see the world as your playing field? You are a citizen of the world, so influence it! See yourself as applicable to the whole world. S- Smile more! It is cheap, it is scarce, it open doors, it brightens the places it is shone on. It is the greatest gift you can give anyone. When you smile, you tell the world you have wonderful things to offer because you have a lot of good welled up inside.

I will like to conclude with this famous poem by Walter D. Wintle titled, ‘Thinking.’

‘If you think you are beaten, you are; If you think you dare not, you don't. If you'd like to win, but you think you can't, It is almost a certain - you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you're lost; For out in this world we find Success begins with a fellow's will It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you're outclassed, you are; You've got to think high to rise. You've got to be sure of yourself before You can ever win the prize. Life's battles don't always go To the stronger or faster person; But sooner or later the person who wins Is the one who thinks they can!’

I hope those words inspired you as much as they did me. You can do anything that you think you can. I think that’s pretty cool.

Class of 2017, Congratulations. I have enjoyed the time I have spent with you. There is not a single person here that is not amazing; you have all achieved something great in your life just by being here. I will miss you guys a lot, no doubt; but on the bright side, life, here we come. To conclude this speech graduands, I would like to tell you something important, something you and I must never forget.

We are awesome. We are coyotes. Nothing in existence will ever change that.

Thank you very much.


©2020 by Ayo Okikiolu.


Edited by: Mrs Vanessa Yaschuk (An Awesome Math Teacher and Awesome Mentor).

Background Information: The Theme was "Be Awesome, Not Perfect."

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