Mary Lorraine Zsolway
Mary Lorraine Zsolway

Reverend Monsignor Dermond,  honored guests, Board of Trustees, Board of Directors, administration, faculty, family, friends and my fellow graduates, it is my honor to stand before you and deliver this speech today. In my fourteen years at Villa, I've avoided this stage (and public speaking in general) like the plague, so I'm considering speaking before you today my "final test" for graduation from Villa Victoria.

"Lifer" is a term Villa affectionately uses to describe students who have been at Villa for most of their lives: students who sang the alma mater before they could sing their abc's and met Sister Lillian before meeting some members of their extended family. But it really only takes walking through the front entrance and being greeted by Mrs. Toth or Sister Florence to become just as impacted by Villa's loving community as the "lifers". It takes only a shadow day to develop lifelong friends and realize that this school is like no other. Whether you've been at Villa for four years or fourteen years, every student will walk off this stage with the same grace and confidence that so typifies the strong women that Villa produces.

But just what makes Villa so special?

Well, certainly no one would argue with it being the fellowship of the students. Whether it be help proofreading an essay, boy drama, or just an overall bad day, there is never a moment when you feel as though you are alone. Just take one walk down the hall or flip through the messages on your phone and you will never forget that there is always a great friend ready to help with whatever little life issue may have you down. And this doesn't just end within school hours. Through Villa, we've gained a community of students who will always be here for us and understand us, because of our shared experiences and belief system.

But maybe it's the teachers and faculty. They put countless hours into making lesson plans, organizing school events, coaching sports, and making Villa just a happy place to be. Their duties are not bound to the classroom, but extend further and deeper. Through the tangents that every high school student so prays to be able to get their teachers on, we've learned more about life beyond the classroom than any YouTube video could have taught us (although none of us will ever forget the function of mRna and our genes am I right?). I've done the math, and thanks to Mrs. Conway I CAN do the math and over the past four years we've spent about 5,040 hours being taught by them. That's about an eighth of the last four years! Every morning they get up and give every piece of themselves to making us better people and in return the world a better place. Through our teachers, we've gained knowledge that will carry us not only in the classroom, but into the world beyond.

Or it could be the teaching of our faith. Together as a class we've learned everything from Genesis to Revelations, from apostolic succession to the story of Zechariah. But most importantly we've developed a relationship with God that will help us through our lives. We've gained a forever friend in Christ that will carry us through the rough patches and help us to know that He has a plan, and in knowing this, we will be able to accomplish anything we set our minds to. Through Villa, we've gained a deeper understanding of our faith and hence the hope and knowledge that our paths will lead us to fulfill Christ's will wherever we may go.

But Villa is just so special because of all of these things. And we have our parents to thank for providing us with the opportunities that have been afforded us through Villa. Now we embark on a new journey, but we never leave the old behind. As we begin this next adventure in our lives, we will take with us the community and faith that we have developed here. These things will allow us to be the confident women that St. Lucy challenges us to become. We will flourish with the new opportunities that our educations will provide us, from right in-state to Spain to Philadelphia, wherever we may go.

This speech wouldn't be complete without ending on an empowering note and recalling something from the past, so I'll take this opportunity to "borrow" the poem my mom used in her valedictory address to the graduating class of Pelham High School in 1978.  (Sorry mom I just gave away your age)

Don't Quit
By John Greenleaf Whittier

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its' twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit—
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Inevitably, this life will provide trials. But with the help of God, our families, and our forever Villa sisters, no challenge will be too great or problem insurmountable. Through faith, hope and perseverance there is no doubt in my mind that the 11 girls who sit with me on this stage today will accomplish everything they set their minds to because they will never quit. Let us never forget that as our very own Belle put it so poetically, our home will be where the heart is, and our heart will always be 'neath the shade of elm and scented pine. Thank you.