Wilton graduation speech: ‘What kind of world do we live in today?’

Rishabh Raniwala, co-valedictorian of Wilton High School’s Class of 2020.

Rishabh Raniwala, co-valedictorian of Wilton High School’s Class of 2020.

Wilton senior Rishabh Raniwala gave two speeches for Wilton High School’s 2020 graduation celebration on June 13, the class opening speech, and a speech as co-valedictorian. This is his opening speech.

What kind of world do we live in today?

They always say finding the perfect opening for a speech is the hardest part. I would tend to agree. With that impossible task out of the way, congratulations! Graduation is the culmination of 12 years of hard work and dedication to academics, and for that we should all be proud of ourselves.

Graduation is not just about academics, though; it symbolizes the culmination of years of sports practices, theatre rehearsals, club meetings, STEM tournaments, oratory competitions, and community service efforts. Years of late night Orem’s pancakes, drives to the Res, pickup games at Comstock, days spent at Compo and Calf Pasture beach, and afternoons goofing off in the study rooms at the Wilton Library. Graduation means all of these things and so much more, and a less-than-ideal end to our senior year cannot take away a single one of these memories. Remember them, cherish them, and know that the future holds an immeasurable amount more.

With all that being said, I do not want to waste this opportunity to speak to all of you with graduation platitudes. I think that speeches, especially ones as momentous as graduation speeches, have to be given in the context of the world at the time.

What kind of world do we live in today?

We live in a world where the extrajudicial killing of unarmed black men and women by police officers goes unpunished and continues to be the norm. We live in a world where white protestors are able to march on capitol buildings across the country, AKs and shotguns in hand, yelling and spitting in the face of police without any retaliation, all to have hair salons and tattoo parlors opened.

This is the same world where unarmed, POC peaceful protestors are tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and beaten with batons for speaking out against police brutality. We live in a world where rather than acknowledge the blatant horrors of institutional racism in our country, people are content with pointing fingers at looters, many of whom are allegedly white supremacists, undercover cops, or are otherwise not affiliated with protestors, in order to discredit the pain and suffering endured by BIPOC in America for over 400 years.

This world, unfortunately, is one that some in Wilton are all too comfortable to be a part of. The town of Wilton is one where some will complain, “Well, how come people get to support Black Lives Matter while we can’t have a proper graduation?”

These people do not realize that protesting is a constitutional right. Graduation can be celebrated with friends and family at home later on, but delayed action against the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and hundreds of innocents just like them allows for the further propagation of systematic racism.

The town of Wilton is one where I have had conversations with some fellow students who try to justify the use of brutal force against peaceful protestors by saying, “They started the violence,” despite tear gas being thrown as a reaction to often nothing more than chants for an end to police brutality.

They fail to recognize that riots are but a symptom of a much larger issue. But these isolated individuals do not speak to the true spirit of Wilton. The true spirit of Wilton is one that will march against police brutality and racism, ready to show its unconditional support. It’s one that has donated time and money, signed petitions, and continues to educate themselves in order to avoid being trapped in the Wilton bubble. It’s one that understands that the fight against racism is one that has to be fought every day, in every facet of our lives. It’s one that understands, even though many of us have had positive, even enriching experiences with the police in our neighborhoods, those are not the same experiences that all individuals have had.

With all that in mind, please do not let Black Lives Matter once again fade into the background of our national discourse. Do not take Black Lives Matter as an opportunity to be a performative ally. Take the opportunity to understand that with all the privilege and all the resources we have in the Wilton community, it is on us to continue to educate ourselves, to demand change, to donate, to petition, and to protest. As we leave the Wilton bubble for the world beyond, we will encounter a variety of perspectives on life vastly different from our own.

Learn from them, understand them, embrace them.

Thank you.