At the start of each new school year, Rowland Hall holds a Convocation ceremony. The 2021 event, held on Friday, August 27, centered around the theme (and school value) Relationships Matter.
Every year, Rowland Hall’s student body president is invited to address the group of students, faculty and staff, trustees, alumni, and families gathered for Convocation. (Check out the 2020 speech here.) This year’s president, Samantha Lehman—who recently wrote a reflection for Fine Print about appearing on the Utah House of Representatives podcast to discuss the toll the pandemic is taking on students' mental well-being—used the event to inspire students to find ways to tap into their own superpowers, even amidst personal and global challenges, to achieve their goals. Her speech—lightly edited here for style and context—appears below.
By Samantha Lehman, student body president
Most people would describe me as a nerd.
You may think the term nerd has a negative connotation, but I take it as a compliment. And part of what makes me a nerd is that I am a very avid reader. If someone gave me a book for my birthday, I would actually read it. If I tell my parents I’m going for a hike, I’m probably just going to Barnes and Noble in my workout clothes. However, when I got to high school, work and extracurriculars just sort of piled up. I didn’t have time to read anymore, so I preferred watching a show to reading because it was easier.
But my New Year’s resolution last year was to read 20 minutes of a non-school book a day, and I’ve ended up getting back into reading as a result. Now, I don’t mean reading Shakespeare, War and Peace, or Grapes of Wrath. I mean traditional, fun, not-really-brain-intensive young adult fantasy. Think Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Shadow and Bone, etc. I read these types of books because they allowed me to escape from my daily life into an epic fantasy world filled with dragons, and knights, and magic, and demigods.
And as I read more and more of these types of books, I realized that most of them follow a general formula for how they’re constructed. It goes as follows:
- Main character is facing some struggle at home.
- Main character finds out they have magical powers.
- Main character goes to a special place for people with magical powers.
- Main character is involved in a conflict, but ends up defeating the villain, usually with the help of teammates.
There I was, struggling to deal with real life, thinking about this formula and wishing that some big dude with an umbrella would bust down my door and tell me that I was actually a wizard and offer me an escape from reality ... and I would feel sad and disappointed that that probably wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to change my mindset. I started to compare this formula to my everyday life, and—while I know this might sound a little crazy—I realized that they’re not so different.
I thought back to first grade, when I didn't really like school and was struggling to find my place. It wasn’t until my teacher, Susanna, told us about a story-writing project that I discovered my love for writing and storytelling. Writing was my magical power, and it was just my luck that I was in a special place that fostered that power: school. Writing helped me slay the first-grade dragon, and has helped me ever since, by serving as a stress reliever, a way to express my voice, and a way to connect with others.
I thought back to Middle School, when I was unsure whether or not I could be a scientist. It wasn’t until I earned my first exceeding on a science test that I realized, “Hey, I could actually do this stuff.” Realizing that I could do anything I set my mind to, including science, was a magical power.
Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022
I thought back to all the instances when I found new abilities through trying new things—and the times when I’d failed and fallen. And I’m still here. I defeated all of those challenges, I’ve grown, and I did it with the help of new friends, teammates, and abilities I didn’t even know I possessed.
These past two years have been tough. We’ve lost friends, family, and time. We’ve been alone, limited, and angry at the world. But you are all still here. You’ve made it through years of hardship and school. You’ve climbed barriers, faced the odds, suffered through ERBs—and yet you’re still standing.
So this year, I challenge each of you to live your life like you are in a young adult fantasy book. Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow. You are warriors, and knights, and scientists, and writers, and historians, and mathematicians, and debaters, and artists, and athletes, and computer geniuses. You are strong, smart, and unique. So use those powers to live your own fantasy, because even though the real world is no magical school, summer camp, or palace, you are brave enough to face it.
Banner photo: Members of the class of 2022 wave to this year's first graders in a COVID-adjusted version of the high-fives usually given at Convocation.