2024 Graduates: ‘Your Purpose is the Very Heart of Who You Are’

May 21, 2024 / Upper School/All News

During the 2023-2024 graduation ceremony, the ideas of “turning challenges into benefits” and “succeeding in what matters” resonated deeply. For the first time, Jackson Academy honored co-valedictorians, Mallory Brooks and Gautam Ray, who achieved equivalent grade point averages. Mallory and Gautam delivered inspiring speeches, encouraging their peers to pursue meaningful and purposeful lives.

Gautam, a STAR student and National Merit Finalist, used the analogy of a creek and a river to describe how students can grow from something small to something powerful, navigating barriers along the way with the help of those around them, such as the faculty at JA. He asked graduates to look around the auditorium and identify people who had helped them become the best versions of themselves.

Gautam cited examples of challenging tests that prepared students for upper-level math or complex art projects that moved them toward mastering an art form. He characterized obstacles with peers as moments that helped students learn how to interact successfully with others. He encouraged graduates never to feel embarrassed about their traits but to instead be authentic and strive to become their best selves.

Headed to Columbia University, the Hall of Famer and Cum Laude Society member is the second from his immediate family to present a valedictory speech to JA graduates. In 2021, Gautam’s sister Priya Ray presented the valedictory address. 

Mallory Brooks, a Hall of Fame member, Gold Key winner in the Scholastic Art Competition, and member of the Cum Laude Society, spoke of a higher purpose for graduates’ lives beyond social status or fame. She said one’s purpose is the heart of who you really are.

She quoted from the work of author Francis Chan, who wrote about the risk of succeeding in things that don’t matter. Using an analysis from “The New York Times” noted on the Edward-Elmhurst Health site, she described how only 25 percent of the population lives purposefully. Like Alice in Wonderland, she said, the remainder “are asking the Cheshire Cat which way to go and not really caring where they end up.”

Mallory, who will continue her education at Mississippi College, then described a life that seeks a purpose that matters. Citing the Westminster Catechism, she discussed why people were created: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Mallory noted that by living a life of purpose centered on Christ, actions will flow from our larger purpose and can have eternal meaning.

She closed with a quote from renowned Christian apologist C.S. Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity.” “Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter; we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like?” Lewis wrote. “We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.”

Initially scheduled for JA’s outdoor stadium, the Brickyard, rain moved the ceremony into the Performing Arts Center. Ninety-eight students graduated in the May 16 ceremony.