As Alberni District Secondary School grads complete their final exams and begin to transition into summer holiday mode, Oliver Witham, the 17-year-old who was chosen as the class of 2016’s valedictorian, is adding last-minute edits and final changes to his speech for tomorrow night’s graduation ceremony.
Writing a balanced speech with both humour and encouragement is important to Witham who wants his words to reflect on what it means to graduate.
“I know grad is a serious, important occasion but it’s also a celebration and I don’t want to have a really serious speech about here’s the future and we’re going to change the world…I really want it to be an enjoyable thing,” he said.
“I want it to be something people can relate to, something people are interested in,” he said.
For Witham, it was a sort of last minute decision to run for valedictorian, but ultimately his enjoyment of public speaking and an eagerness to represent the Grade 12s inspired him to enter his name in the race. Close to 100 Grade 12s voted on who they wanted to represent them at grad and two students ran for the position.
“The funny thing is, I think the reason I was chosen was because of the talent show at our school,” Witham said. “The last two years I’ve done stand-up comedy…really bad stand-up comedy.”
Witham said he developed a bit of a reputation for being that guy who tells “really bad chemistry puns” and since becoming valedictorian, his peers have been encouraging him to add his science humour to his speech.
This year’s graduating class will be the first to have spent their entire high school career at the new ADSS building on Roger Street which was a common response from Grade 12s Witham spoke to while researching for speech ideas.
Graduating after having spent four years at the same school hasn’t quite sunk in yet for Witham who said the realization that high school is over will probably hit him half way through the summer.
“I mean there’s a lot of excitement there but I think on one level or another we’re all nervous about [graduating] because it’s just going to be such a monumental change, everything going to be different now,” Witham said.
“Textbooks aren’t going to be free anymore.”
In September, Witham will be attending, and purchasing textbooks, at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont. where he’ll be studying mechatronic engineering.
He said he’s thrilled to have been accepted into the five-year program that is a combination of learning about electrical computer systems and mechanical engineering.
“I think we’ve all realized that you never really know where life is going to go. You never really know where you’re heading, so I’m going to mechatronics now, do I think I’ll be an engineer my whole life? No, not at all,” Witham said.
Before heading to Ontario, Witham plans to spend the summer at home with friends.
“I’m probably never going to see them again…ever,” he laughs.
As the graduating class move on to new experiences and unfamiliar territories, Witham wants the Grade 8s who are just beginning their journey at ADSS to know that while high school may present more challenges than elementary school, it will become easier with time.
“While everything gets harder you also become better. You become stronger and you learn how to be a better student. You learn how to manage your time and I’d say don’t be afraid to just go in and do the hard stuff, take different courses stuff you wouldn’t normally, see what your interests are and then don’t be afraid,” Witham said.