On June 27, 2011, Ilan Tzitrin delivered a fantastic valedictory address to the Graduating Class of 2011.  In September, Ilan will be studying at the University of Toronto (Trinity College) under the national scholarship. He plans to specialize in Mathematics and Physics and minor in Linguistics, although nothing is set in stone. Eventually, he wishes to pursue his Ph.D and become a professor. In order to maintain an interest in both the arts and the sciences, he will continue writing, acting and tutoring during his spare time in university.

You can watch or read Ilan’s speech below:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” No author could ever summarise high school as effectively as Charles Dickens did, even if he did not intend it.

Mark Twain, another author from almost the same time, had more direct views on the public system. He once remarked, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Now, I don’t know the kind of corrective techniques that were used on Twain in his childhood, but I am convinced that, had he studied at TSS, his views would have been fundamentally different. Four splendid years at Thornhill have convinced me that my schooling did not, in fact, interfere with m     y education. And for that, as the clichéd expression goes, it is both an honour – and a privilege – to be your valedictorian.

For many of you, I stand here today as a classmate; for others, only a schoolmate; for a venerable bunch, a student; for some, a friend; for two of you, a son; for one, a grandson; for one, a brother; and, for a fairly sizeable group, a tutor. Out of these demographic roles, the most insightful one is a student, the most important a friend, the most defiant, a son, and the most profitable, a tutor.

But enough about myself. A valedictory address should summarise our collective achievements, a compression of four school years’ time – that’s close to two million minutes – in the span of just five. Let me try. 

As a math student, I have attempted many times to model high school life using a cyclical function, but to no avail. The closest I’ve come, because of all its twists and turns, is…
y = sin(1/x). (You’re welcome, the 0.01% of you for whom that joke hit close to home.)

The point is it’s been a bumpy ride. There’s no denying it. The reason the teenage years are infamously turbulent is that we have a mélange of responsibilities, educational and personal. One day we’re learning about hormones in biology, another we’re experiencing them ourselves. One minute we’re writing a physics test, the next we’re admiring others’ physiques. One moment we’re studying history, another we’re studying her story. One instance we’re doing chemistry, another we find we lack chemistry. It’s just the way it goes.

On a more sober note, there have definitely been trials. Broken limbs. Disputes. Illnesses. Losses in families. Disintegrations of families. Losses of friends. Losses of classmates. Wrong choices that range from inconsequential to heartbreakingly consequential. These trials can be devastating, but as important as it is to reflect on them and to learn from them, it is vital never to dwell on them. I find it rather difficult to move forwards with my head turned around, though occasional glances do help me understand where I am.

The power of our associations helps us cope with the rough times and enjoy the good. One of the things I admire most about Thornhill is the strength of our community. It’s hard to imagine any school as tightly-knit as ours, both in the relationship among students and between students and staff. We managed to enjoy a healthy student-teacher respect and were still able to socialize and ask for support.

What else will I miss about the school? Let’s see. There are the omnipresent Jamaican patties in the cafeteria. There’s the loudness of Mr. Shulman and the tranquility of Mr. Hamid. Eye of the Tiger. William Tell in the mornings. “Five people to a table?!” The thoughts of the day. The school plays. Popular team sports like Ultimate Frisbee, hockey, basketball, golf. Multitudinous clubs, some of which lure members with free pizza. Lockers we gave up on. A school-wide Kleenex deficit. Being locked in the quad. (I’m still seething.)

Before the orchestra starts interjecting, I know I need to give my thanks to those who comprise these memories. First and foremost, I applaud our teachers, who fulfilled the invaluable duty of imparting knowledge and promoting ethical values; the staff members, for organizing and streamlining our education; our families, because we always have to thank our families; and our friends, because we sometimes forget to thank them. I also give kudos to my fellow candidates on the valedictorian ballot, who are not only great friends themselves, but would have done a phenomenal job on the podium.

To sign off – don’t think you have it all behind you. You have it all in front of you; it’s just that now, you are all a bit more adept at dealing with life. Do not revile your misfortunes, nor revel too much in your fortunes. Wherever you’re off to next year, may your luck supplement, but not substitute, your skill.

And do not be wistful now that it’s over. I admit Dickens may not have been referring to high school, but, regardless, be happy that through the foolishness you received wisdom, belief through the incredulity, light through the darkness, hope through the despair. From now on, may you only have the best of times, and may your schooling only ever enrich, never interfere with, your education.