Deborah Malekan tells North High grads to savor experience

Deborah Malekan tells North High grads to savor experience
Deborah Malekan told fellow North High graduates to savor the experience, rather than dwell on negative outcomes. (Photo courtesy of Great Neck Public Schools)

Deborah Malekan, a North High School class of 2019 graduation, delivered the speech “Costco Pizza” on the importance of savoring memories at the school’s commencement ceremony. It was sent to the Great Neck News by the Great Neck Public Schools.

We all have moments in our life where we take a step back and ask: “Was this all worth it?” When I was 10 years old, I threw up outside of Costco. I had a pizza, a good pizza, and it didn’t really sit well, so it came up again. If I’m being honest, it wasn’t the best of times. The Costco parking lot wasn’t the most accommodating place, and the forty-five minute drive home did little to soothe my nausea. On top of that, my mom didn’t want me to eat that pizza in the first place. “We have pizza at home,” she had said, a fact that I highly doubted but did not want to challenge her on. So much to my mother’s dismay, I ate the Costco pizza, and well, you know the rest.

For a while after, I initiated my very own Costco boycott. It wasn’t that I meant to ban their products, but it was simply too hard for me to look at that store again without unpleasant memories resurfacing. Yet, with the passing of a few years, I realized how ridiculous I was being. Costco, home to free samples galore, was somewhere I needed to be, and one lousy experience was not going to tarnish all the beautiful memories it holds—memories of the first time I was able to withstand the cold of the freezer room, when I first discovered those precious chocolate-covered almonds, and that time when they were sampling my favorite vanilla cake.

In a way, it is much like high school. No, I have never thrown up in school, but trust me, there have been many grades that triggered that same sense of nausea. There have been plenty of moments where I debated “boycotting school,” but my desire to graduate along with the newly imposed seven day absence limit has nullified this protest.

Still, there is much to say about embracing this correlation. Life is composed of millions of tiny moments, and expecting each and everyone to be perfect is irrational. The beauty of life is that sometimes we fall down, sometimes we don’t get the ACT score we want, sometimes we lose every game, but for all those times we fall, there are the moments we get back up again, the moments we look around and embrace one another. There is beauty in understanding that life exists not for the outcome, but rather for the experience. We are here to grow and to prosper, but with a mindset that accepts no mistakes or downfalls, we can achieve neither of those things.

It took me four years to finally grasp that it is not the direct outcome that makes something “worth it” but rather the experience itself. The experience of eating that pizza is what I latch onto—the way the cheese melted softly and the luscious sauce and the crunchy yet fluffy crust—not the garbage can and the asphalt outside of Costco. It is the process of doing everything but studying in the library, being doubles partners with my best friends, and burning brownies the night before that makes it “worth it.” Those are the things I continue to treasure, not my exam grades and match scores and college decisions. Those moments, the ones that simply exist as a vehicle for accomplishing something else, are the ones we must embrace, so why don’t we?

As high school students, we are trained to value the results, often bombarding each other with questions like “what did you get on this test?” or “where are you going to school next year?” but sometimes, we just need to slow down and value the more important things. As human beings, we must learn to embrace the seemingly inconsequential moments, regardless of whether or not they yield the results we hope for. Ultimately, the result of something isn’t the experience; the experience is the experience.

I tell people I play tennis, and for some reason they always think I’m really good. Truth be told, I think I’ve won maybe two competitive games in my entire tennis career. While the rest of my team was raking in win after win, there I was, unable to hit a forehand to save my life. Yet when I look back at those two years, my mind goes not to my embarrassing record, but rather to the memories my friends and I made. Yes, the match score is the result, but playing alongside my best friend was always the more meaningful experience.

Often times, we choose to experience moments the wrong way, forgetting that we have the option to choose the good. For me, the moment was having the pizza, and even throwing it up hasn’t made me push that moment to a place where I never want to think about it again. We must be capable of separating the joyful part of experiences from the negative part. I don’t view this story as one where “I threw up” but rather one where “I really liked a pizza… even though I threw up.” I don’t view tennis as a sport where I sucked, but rather one where I had a great time with my friends… even though I sucked.

We are so ready to be released from high school simply because of some negative experiences, but that doesn’t mean that the whole thing should be thrown out, or thrown up. There is beauty in the four years we shared; however, our propensity to value the wrong things leads us to label something as either good or bad. But there is always gray.

Now I’m not saying that we’ll throw up Gino’s or Daruma or Deli, but we might. Or maybe we’ll throw up words, slip out a simple “tef” or “BH” in front of our college friends and have ten confused faces look back at us (though, if you’re going to Bing, you don’t have to worry, they’ll all understand).

Moving forward in college, or wherever the next four years take us, we must be cognizant of whether we concentrate our attention on valuing the right things. At the end of the day, none of us wants to be 50 years old with great GPAs and no stories to tell. None of us wants to reflect on our life, asking “was this all worth it?” because if we have to ask, then deep down, we know it wasn’t. So when you walk out of here today practically jumping with glee over the fact that it is finally over, take a little time to store some of these small memories. You’ll need them later on.

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