YES Prep Northside Valedictorian: “We are Dreamers, in every sense of the word”

Al Castillo
Al Castillo is the valedictorian of YES Prep Northside’s founding class. Next year, he’ll be attending Georgetown University to study political science and international affairs. Here, you’ll read his valedictorian address to the Northside Class of 2018.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome, friends, families, staff, and graduates of the class of 2018 to the first graduation of YES Prep Northside. This is a moment seven years in the making. It is my honor to deliver the valedictorian speech in front of the people whom I have made a second family with. All of you are my brothers and sisters. We suffered the grind together; we lived through times of struggle, hopelessness, and adversity together; and each of us, right now, made it to today. Take in this moment as you see loved ones cheering you on from the back, and your friends laughing and crying by your side. You deserve to be on this stage as you have all worked your blood, sweat, and tears to reach this point. It has been a great pleasure to work with all of you over the past seven years. Whether you were sitting next to me in class, talked to me in the hallways, or threatened to spoil the ending to Avengers: Infinity War despite me explicitly saying not to (and you still did); I am proud to be graduating alongside the most dedicated, intelligent, diligent, and funny group of students I have met in my 18 years. It is not a lie for me to say that I love you all from the bottom of my heart.

I originally planned for this to be a humorous speech because I admit that it would be boring to listen to me talk on my own for five minutes, but I decided not to because of events that transpired two weeks ago in Santa Fe, Texas; and quite frankly, I believe this is the time to address the harsh reality that is the real world.

I begin by saying that life, by any definition of the term, is unfair and unjust. Life is merely a game where there are few winners, and the rest are predetermined to lose. We are but chess pieces on a chessboard, waiting to be moved until we get taken over by the opposing side—aching to try our best and reach the finish line, but the trail paved for us is littered with obstacles and walls that we cannot pass through.

While we are blessed to receive the resources, supplies, and support to fuel our stride towards an education, I feel that we often forget that many others are not given the same opportunity to reach the same conclusion to our high school careers we have now. Some will never witness balloons and bouquets of roses and daisies, nor will they adorn robes that barely skid their ankles or caps with tassels scratching their cheeks as they await their final hours as high school students. There are individuals whose minds, bodies, and souls will never encounter this feeling of accomplishment and congratulations for reasons out of their control. For reasons I simply cannot understand.

We live in the midst of heartbreak, disappointment, envy, and tragedy; and we understand that such elements are impossible to avoid, as we live in this horrifying, beautiful, painful, and exhilarating experience we call life.

But we can change all of that, and it all starts with each and every one of you.

Seize every opportunity that crosses you. Opportunities are fleeting chances that disappear faster than they appear. Do not fear of what possibilities lie beyond the horizon. You are capable of so many wonderful things. Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion. Never be afraid to venture into the unknown. Take the road less traveled. Step where no footprint has ever stepped. Build a legacy for others to follow because you are the master of your own fate. Never let anyone tell you differently, that you are unworthy or incapable of accomplishing the impossible.

Quote block: We are the light that will illuminate the way for future generations"You know why?

Because we are more than just specks of dust in the wide universe.

We are the light that will illuminate the way for future generations.

We are the trailblazers and pioneers who will lead the way into a new age of innovation, revolution, and breakthroughs.

We are ideas, and voices, and hopes, and dreams that may not be fully realized yet, but will slowly come to fruition in the months and years to come.

We are Dreamers, in every sense of the word, who aspire to be something greater than themselves; to find success, happiness, and prosperity despite the odds; to prove that we are what makes America great—no matter our birthplace, color, age, or love; to show that we all can achieve the greatness that lies within.

We are conversations that await to be spoken, to be delivered, to be shared with the world around us.

Lastly, we are the Blueprint. A set of guidelines, a template so to speak, for a project in the works. A model for a plan set in stone, waiting to be built and structured. This is the legacy that we hope to plant for the incoming class, and the next, and the one after the next. We will leave a mark on this school, on our families, friends, and this community through our persistence and determination for the next four years and beyond. As a parting gift, I wish to end my speech to you with a line from the late Stephen Hawking:

“There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”

I thank you all for allowing me the time to speak to you on this momentous occasion. Thank you to every parent, friend, teacher, staff member, and loved one who has led us to this moment. Happy Pride Month. Vote in the next election if you can; and to the graduating Class of 2018, good luck, I love you all, and I wish you all a long and happy life. Thank you!

Al Castillo
Al Castillo at Senior Signing Day 2018

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