Below is the transcript of the speech Ava delivered to the high school senior graduating class of 2022 at Sora:
To the founders of Sora, Wesley, Garrett, and Indra, distinguished faculty, esteemed guests, and my fellow students – welcome to the 2022 Commencement Ceremony for Sora Schools.
When I first came to Sora, I was autonomy-starved. I had just finished a poorly taught, automated AP chemistry course from a preeminent virtual high school, with a teacher who couldn’t adapt the course material to suit my needs, nor to suit his ideas for what an online class should be. I was burnt out. I was even questioning my decision to do high school online in the first place – wouldn’t my life be easier at a brick-and-mortar school, where I just had to show up and half the work was already done?
Needless to say, I no longer doubt that decision.
I know several people outside of Sora who, like me, have just graduated high school and are moving on to bigger pursuits. They all have one thing in common – they are trying to find themselves. They’ve spent four years in a school where they were merely cogs in a machine, students filling desks, checking off subjects from a standardized list. They’ve learned algebra and Shakespeare, but they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn about themselves – what areas of study make them light up, eager to share what they know, hungry to learn more, and how they can apply those interests, how they can use them to solve real-world problems and transform them into successful careers.
My fellow graduates and I have a leg up on these other students our age. We have been given the freedom to poke around in the dusty corners of subjects that pique our interest, and the space and support to dive deep into what we find there. We know how to work on our own – how to hold ourselves accountable, how to explain what we’re working on to others so they can understand, and how to feed and flesh out an idea that grows and morphs and expands to include multiple subjects, to connect seemingly disparate points, to bring in new people and new points of reference, until it’s a creative living entity of learning. I’m going to miss standup and checkpoint next year – standup, our morning meeting in which we lay out everything we’re absolutely sure we’ll get done that day, and checkpoint in the afternoon, where we celebrate having done only 20% of those things. They’re so commonplace we take them for granted, but I structure my days around them, conceptualizing what I need to do that day in order to finish my tasks for the week. And they’ve never just been about checking boxes – since the very beginning, we’ve been encouraged to mention things that didn’t go as planned, blockers that we anticipate slowing us down. Failure was never something to be ashamed of, something to hide – rather, it was a fact of life, to acknowledge and work past.
Not only are we able to work on our own, but we’re also able to collaborate – to delegate tasks, to strive toward a common goal, to unite our individual strengths in pursuit of a better end result. Ever since the very first group project at Sora (the story-based video game, for those few who will remember), group work has been an integral part of the school.
We engaged in meaningful group work, too – not the stereotypical kind you dread, where no one seems to pull their own weight. The reason we were able to make that distinction, I think, is because the whole school felt like a group project. From the beginning, the founders acknowledged that they didn’t have all the answers yet. They drew on the experts, the parents, and even us, the students, to shape and model the school based on all of our experiences and feedback. The students were, and still are, given as much a voice as anyone else. Our opinions were given weight, were listened to and trusted, and the faculty worked to ensure that our needs were met (and a good many of our wants, as well). With that degree of trust on our shoulders, the work we were doing seemed less like a chore, some meaningless task that we had to check off, and more like an assignment, something we were testing and reporting back on. It also motivated us to do our best work – I wanted to do my best on a presentation, on a project, to show that that trust was founded, that I knew what I was doing and I was using the opportunities that were given to me to the best of my ability.
In being here these last three years, in watching the growth of the school firsthand, I and my fellow graduates have also come to know the unpredictability of any undertaking. We’ve been through so many platforms, so many different iterations of the Sora model – Sococo, Slack, Canvas, Retool. Each one had its pluses and minuses, the ways in which it served our purposes and the ways in which it very much did not. Each one we implemented thinking it would be a solution, and each one we came away from wanting more. Those platforms have been discarded now, and we continue to move forward to newer and better things, but we never viewed those stumbling blocks as failures. Rather, they were learning opportunities. They gave us the chance to take stock of what we needed, how these methods were failing us, and what needed to improve. I and my fellow graduates can take this way of looking at an evolving project, of evaluating unforeseen situations for how they can help us improve, into our future endeavors.
So thank you, Wesley, Garrett, and Indra, aka Garrinsley, the collective name we came up with for the three-headed creature we encountered on our first day. Thank you for creating Sora Schools. From the moment you conceived the idea, to that very first day in September 2019, to today, the development of Sora has been a microcosm of the school’s mission at large. You demonstrated to us exactly the skills and mindset you wanted to instill – to grab hold of our ideas, trust in them, and follow them, despite any roadblocks we may encounter, any naysayers who doubt our vision, to whatever end. You may have set out to change the world of education, and time will tell if the world will embrace that change. However, I know for sure that you changed my world, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Congratulations to the class of 2022! I can’t wait to see what we all do from here.
Thanks, Elizabeth. We begin with the tassel on the right, signifying our role as students at Sora. Now to signal our new status as graduates, please join me in turning our tassels to the left.
– Ava T., Senior Class of 2022
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