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The Gillnetter

The Gillnetter

Cunningham’s advice to classmates: look to nature

Martin DelVecchio
Thea Cunningham delivering her commencement speech.

Below is the full text of Class of 2024 Valedictorian Thea Cunningham’s commencement address:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for being here today. Before I really get down to it I’m going to start with some thank yous. I would like to thank all my family and friends for getting me up here. I love you all. I want to say thank you to my older sister, and my older brother. I love you guys so much. And a very special thank you to my parents who are sitting right there. If you’re sitting next to them give them a high five or something because I think they did a pretty good job if I do say so myself. I love you. Thank you for everything. Alright here we go.

Salmon are able to recognize the taste of the water they were born in, and when it’s time to lay their eggs they will use this ability to return to the same river where they hatched . 

 Locusts hatch, and then half way through their lives undergo a second transformation where they grow wings. 

 Albatross chicks will take their first flight out to sea and then not touch down on solid land again for five years.

Bull sharks give birth in fresh or low salinity water, such as rivers and estuaries, where the young stay for about four years. Then when they are ready, they swim into the open ocean. They are able to return to freshwater; however, it takes a bit more effort as they have to compensate for the lack of sodium in their bodies.

Valedictorian Thea Cunningham’s graduation cap. (Lexi Thomas)

As I’ve been preparing to graduate, I’ve heard a lot of people compare me to birds. People say that I’m “leaving the nest” or ask my parents how they feel about being “empty nesters.” No offense to the bird lovers in the crowd, I think I’d rather be something more intriguing than a bird. So, for the time being I’d like to think of myself as a bull shark. Although I don’t think “empty estuarier” has quite the same ring to it. 

I think that in the next few years it’s going to be really easy for us to judge ourselves, specifically where we are in our lives and where we think we are going. But what I hope that nature can remind us is that all of us are going to have a unique journey, and that’s not only ok, but actually really natural.

Maybe you want to keep coming back to where you grew up, because that’s just what feels right like a salmon. Maybe you want to take off, and not come back for a while, like an albatross. Or, maybe halfway through your life you decide you want to completely switch paths, like a locust.

It is easy for people to forget how big our planet is. Our earth is home to about 8 billion people, and home to 1 trillion living things. No matter how upside down your life seems, I guarantee that there is some animal out there who is doing the exact same thing and thriving. So I encourage the class of 2024 to go watch a little bit of nature channel. Get acquainted with how weird our planet is because I think it can make us all feel a little bit better about where we are.

While writing this speech I asked the class of 2024 for a word. Literally any word. I gave some optional categories like a word they have been thinking a lot about recently, a word that reminds them of Gloucester, or a word that they associate with a memory. I’m going to read them for you now:

Beach, community, ambitious, grey, culture, slay, snazzy, the, bagel, higgledy-piggledy, Kaiserman, goals, dedication, opportunity, wholeheartedly, memories, perspicacity (like perspiration), monkey, peace, determined, mercurial, growth, struggle, ataraxia, success, tired, time, ameliorate, unvanquished, ocean, Dunkin, reliable, boat, motivation, perseverance, sonder, smile, proud, relieved, change, anchor, stars, fisherman, kindness, object, euphoric, grahh, hope, music, athleticism, and…always be yourself no matter where you are, life’s a journey but we all get to make it our own.

And my word is “salty.” I chose salty because it has a dual meaning for me. Salty reminds me where I come from, but it also reminds me of my bull shark, and how I’m moving on soon. As we all head off on our individual journeys, I wish the class of 2024 the best in whatever they choose to do. Congratulations to everyone!

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About the Contributor
Lexi Thomas
Lexi Thomas, Staff Writer
Lexi Thomas is a Junior at Gloucester High School, and a second year staff member for the Gillnetter. She enjoys writing creatively and can't wait to regularly publish! When Lexi isn't writing or getting caught up on schoolwork, she has been a Varsity Cheerleader for the past three seasons with no plans of stopping! Lexi is also an aspiring photographer who has made many appearances at all-level sports events.  She is very excited to be a jack of all trades this year on the Gillnetter staff and can be reached at

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