Life Is a Gift:
Graduation 2021 Student Speech

By John Hegarty, Alumni



Good evening and hello Class of 2021!

I have been at Dearborn [Academy] since I was in 8th grade. Before I came to Dearborn I was a totally different person. I used to have the worst panic attacks and my anxiety was through the roof. It was a struggle to get to school every day for me and my parents. It was like cleaning my room … but 10 times worse than that. Although they were both struggles, I knew I would always be safe cleaning my room but not so much with going to school.


Before coming to Dearborn, school was like going to battle, finding a seat in the cafeteria was like looking for a parking spot in downtown Boston. Everyone always had their friend groups and that made me feel overwhelmed not knowing where to sit each day as seating was limited.


Once I came to Dearborn I became more visible and got the help I needed. In public school everyone is looked at as one big flock of birds that are all the same. We are not all the same and cannot let society dictate that.


Dearborn has been a safe haven. It may not be the stereotypical high school you see in movies like high school musical, but in the long run for me it has been much better and so much more beneficial to my mental health and my academic success. There was not one teacher without a smile in the hallway every day. I was always welcomed with friendly greetings from [staff] Suzanne, Forrest, Jill, Steve or Kyle, and they all checked in to see what I may have needed.


Everyone here cares about each student, they take the time to see what each student needs and to get to know each student as a person. And for that I am grateful.


The teachers at Dearborn are more than just teachers, they are like second counselors to all of the students. All of the teachers at Dearborn take the time to connect and bond with each student on a personal level addressing their social emotional needs along with academics. I am sure I speak for the entire graduating class when I say, “Dearborn teachers are the BEST teachers!”


I also want to thank [guidance counselor] Paige for always going along with my jokes and just getting me. Thank you for understanding who I am as a person and always being relatable. You helped me get my first job and put me on the right path. The students here are lucky to have you help them plan for their future and the future should not be taken for granted. Thank you for teaching us that!


I want to thank [head of school] Rebecca and [principal] Sheilah. Rebecca, if it wasn’t for you I would not be standing in front of this podium today. Thank you for accepting me into the Dearborn Community. Thank you for taking the chance on all of us. Sheilah … I don’t know where to start. It feels like just yesterday we met at the summer program. Thank you for guiding me and the rest of the class towards success and not letting us divert in the wrong direction.


I would also like to thank Thomas, my shop teacher. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve known you ever since I started here and you connected so well with me, and I’d always get a good laugh in class. I am very proud of the work I accomplished, and I know I am not alone. I’ll always remember the number one thing you taught us… “set yourself up for success.” Learning isn’t always through a textbook, in fact I truly believe I learned the most from your class, whether it was finding the right screws for a table or polishing a cutting board. Shop class is a gift to the culture of Dearborn.


I would like to thank my counselor, Helen. Helen, it has been an honor working with you. I knew you as staff freshman year, but starting my sophomore year I knew that you would understand me the most. You are so funny to talk to and always relatable. You make me laugh all the time. You always helped me tackle the difficult struggles I had in my everyday life. Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone and not letting my anxiety dictate my life. You and the other clinicians in this building have always encouraged me and the rest of the graduating class to do the right thing and we are all so grateful.


It would be impossible to write a graduation speech and not talk about our families. None of us would be sitting here today without the support of our families and caregivers.


Before I end, I just want to say that we have seen many well-known celebrities speaking out about mental health more than ever in the past decade. So whenever you are thinking to yourself it’s just you who’s in the struggle think of Michael Phelps overcoming ADHD by swimming laps in the pool, or Mariah Carey who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder yet she strived and succeeded at singing and continues to be successful. It is our time to embrace our challenges and turn our differences into our successes.


Graduating class of 2021, I leave you with this. Don’t take anything for granted, life is a gift!