“I [do not] think any of us could have predicted a year quite like this,” stated Thao-Mi Nguyen in her graduation speech. Nguyen graduated from Malden High School this past summer, along with the rest of the Class of 2020.
Unlike the classes before hers, her senior year was cut short due to the pandemic. When she found out that school was moving online and prom was canceled, she was initially disappointed, like many of her classmates. Nguyen remembered looking forward to prom since her freshman year, but at the same time she thought that “the pandemic actually gave [her] a lot of time to think about how [she] wanted to be in college” and to focus on herself for a bit. A part of her was glad that she did not have to deal with the stress of the end of senior year activities, even though she was dismayed that she did not get a chance to say a proper goodbye to the staff and her friends at the school.
Some of the particular staff members that left an impact on Nguyen were Ms. Clapp, Mr. Gallagher, and Mrs. Giberson. She felt like she “learned how to become a better communicator” and writer in their classes and even mentioned Ms. Clapp in the opening of her speech at graduation. Not only was she able to become a better student, but their guidance and mentorship helped her “be more confident in who [she] was as a person” as well.
During her time at Malden High, Nguyen played field hockey for three years, and was a part of the Asian Culture Club and Leadership and Mentoring Club (LMC). When she first entered high school, she never thought that she would do a sport, but joining field hockey helped her learn how to connect with other people and get to know them, even if they did not seem to click initially. Her experience with the sport in high school helped her when she arrived at college because even with the pandemic, she has had the opportunity to meet people from all over, and Nguyen thought that “having that group of friends in high school helped [her] learn how to socialize with other people.”
In addition, LMC was a really impactful experience for her because it “taught [her] that [she] loved collaborating with others” and working with kids, which in turn influenced her career path as she plans on becoming a physician or healthcare worker that deals with children.
She is currently studying health sciences at Northeastern and is on the pre-med track. She expressed that a healthcare career was “always in the back of [her] mind as [she] went about exploring different options in high school.” However, Nguyen said she is “open to other careers in the healthcare field,” and is not entirely sure at this moment if she wants to attend medical school, but it is definitely on the table. She pointed out that she believed it is a misconception that many people have that “once you reach college [you are] supposed to know exactly what you want to do.” Nguyen sees college has a great place to get the experiences you need in order to determine what kind of future you want to invest in.
Nguyen recalled the college application process as being difficult for her because of how indecisive she was. She remembered not submitting her deposit fee until the very last day, something that she does not recommend doing. She was originally debating between Northeastern and another school, and it was especially hard because of the pandemic as you were not allowed to visit the campuses. After a lot of consideration, she ended up choosing Northeastern, which was actually one of her first acceptances.
So far, Nguyen described college as being a “whirlwind” and “definitely different from what [she] expected.” Northeastern is currently doing a hybrid model, with in-person classes on certain days and remote classes on others. She is currently living on campus, but gets to go home for the weekend because of the close proximity. Even though the course load was “overwhelming” for her at first — especially since she is in the Honors Program — after a few weeks, she was able to get into the hang of things and balance her work.
Looking back, Nguyen thought that her freshman year self would be surprised at where she ended up, mostly because Northeastern is such a contrast from Malden High. Although much larger, it still has some of that diversity that MHS is known for, which she appreciated. Her freshman year self would be proud of “how much more confident and outgoing” she is, but also acknowledge that she “still [has] a long way to go before [she] becomes the person that [she’s] always wanted to be.”
She wished that she could tell her younger self to start early, because she thought back to when she was still writing supplementary essays over winter break, which was “not good at all.” Most of all, though, she wanted her past self to stop comparing herself to other people. Watching all those Youtube videos of college acceptances only made her more nervous about where she would end up. Now, she feels that you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to. Even if you might not be thrilled about your decision at first, you will get used to the environment, because “you really don’t know what college will be like until you experience it yourself.”
Nguyen remembered having this dream school in mind and thinking if she did not get in, then she would be super unhappy, but after choosing the college that she went to, she is “way happier than [she] thought [she] would be, even if it [was not] where [she] expected to end up.”
This article was updated to include Nguyen's participation in the Honors Program.
The following is a transcript of Thao-Mi's graduation speech.
Ms. Clapp taught me that one of the best ways to engage an audience is by starting with a question, and so to begin my speech, I want to ask all of you: Do you remember our freshman year t-shirts? The ones in that gorgeous shade of yellow with the glasses? Ironically, they asserted that we, the Class of 2020, could see the future clearly. However, I don’t think any of us could have predicted a year quite like this.
But instead of lamenting over what could have been, I want to focus on the journey that led us to this moment right here, right now. And, as a self-proclaimed foodie, I believe there is no better representation of our high school experience than the process of creating an ice cream sundae.
Freshman year was like entering an ice cream shop. It’s exciting but also overwhelming as you examine your options. Despite our nerves, our class embraced the unknown, and we found that high school was a place of self-discovery. For instance, you may have learned that you could no longer rock that sequin top from Justice the same way you did back in middle school. I certainly did. Whether it was through fashion failures or just awkward social encounters, we experimented, learned, and grew. And before we knew it, freshman year was over, and we had laid the foundation for our ice cream sundaes.
Then came sophomore year, and it was time to add the toppings to our sundaes. We added sprinkles of new AP courses, morsels of extracurriculars and sports, and dollops of memorable moments like spirit week and pep rally. But the sweetest condiment of all was the connections we made with one another. We formed relationships with attentive teachers, bonds with supportive staff, and friendships with classmates we played 2048 with on our Chromebooks when the teacher wasn’t looking.
But as always, all good things must come to a temporary end. As juniors, we had to add a hefty scoop of Rocky Road to our sundaes. We faced horrors like the SATs and constant pestering about this mysterious entity called the future. Many of us began to show symptoms of mild senioritis, such as homework fatigue and excessive procrastination. Nevertheless, our class soldiered through, and we made it to senior year.
Finally, we submitted our college applications and made our plans for the future. It was time to transform our High School Musical fantasies into a reality. But that wasn’t meant to be. Many of us were robbed of our last games, our last performances, our last prom, and our last moments with each other.
When COVID came and took away the cherry on top of our high school experience, we could have decided to give up and let our ice cream sundaes melt. But we didn’t. Instead, our class chose to enjoy our sundaes anyway. Even when it felt like we were finishing our senior year at Google Meets High School, we pushed through; now, we’re graduating.
So, let’s examine the metaphorical ice cream sundaes that we created. No two ice cream sundaes are the same, because each of us made decisions that uniquely shaped our experience at Malden High. And as we move forward, I want you to remember that at the ice cream counter, you are in control. You decide whether to stick with the familiar vanilla or try a scoop of that goat cheese beet swirl. You choose the opportunities and adventures you want to pursue. Your ice cream sundae-your life-is what you make it. But even as we go on to savor new flavors, I hope you’ll look back fondly on the ice cream sundae of unforgettable moments that we built here at Malden High, together.
Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2020!