Student of the Year Reflections

Reflections from the 2015 Student of the Year, Nicole Oliveira

JA New York 2015 Student of the Year Nicole OliveiraNicole made the following speech during the JA New York Golf Classic at Westchester Country Club on June 20, 2016:

I was in my business teacher, Ms. Morones’, classroom. I remember refreshing my email for what seemed to be the 50th time that hour hoping that I would see a little number one pop up into the open tab.

So, I refreshed my page for an additional 50 or so times and my inbox was still empty. Ironically, I remember telling myself that I would click refresh one more time and if my inbox was still empty, I would step away from the computer for a few hours and check my email again later.

I remember running as fast as I have ever run to show my teacher the email that within a matter of seconds delivered some of the most important news I will may ever receive.

It was approximately this time last year, I received the news that I was selected as the 2015 Junior Achievement of New York Student of the Year.  It was also at around this same time that I had the privilege to present to an entire board of people whom at the time, I had yet to realize how passionate they were and still are about Junior Achievement.

In my presentation, I had quoted the 1989 film, Say Anything, and told the board members that day that I was looking for “A dare to be great situation.”

And I can confidently tell all of you today that this past year has been nothing but great, if not amazing…and priceless.

But before I tell you about how these last few months have helped me become an outspoken young woman and a confident leader, let me preface this by saying that I am someone who has always drawn inspiration from her surroundings.

I will admit that in writing this speech, pin pointing what I wanted to say, was difficult. In less than a week, I will graduate high school; and although it is a really momentous occasion, saying goodbye to something you love and something you learned so much from in such a small period of time, is bittersweet. And this is not to say that change is not good, it is, but it has been difficult to draw inspiration from my surroundings when I know that they are about to change so drastically.

Yet, in writing this speech I have realized that as cliche as this sounds, this is not a “goodbye” but a “see you soon” and you will definitely hear from me again.

Because for as long as I live, I will never forget what JA New York has taught me. Junior Achievement is SO much more than just financial literacy education. Junior Achievement accomplishes what a lot of traditional classrooms fail to do: make students think about their financial future.

And how all of their programs, from High School Heroes to Finance Park, can actually help them become independent young people who are compelled to give back to their community in the same way that all of the partners and volunteers currently involved in JA have been able to do for them.

How do I know all of this? Because you are looking at one of those students.

But I do speak for more than just myself when I say that at my school alone, I have experienced firsthand how empowering Junior Achievement has been for my classmates. At this year’s High School Heroes program alone, I cannot tell you how many students were eager to sign up; and how many of those students had never spoken to each other until that day.

Junior Achievement is more than just financial literacy education. It is a vehicle for fostering community and a support system for young adults, whom without the opportunity to teach elementary school students, may never have discover their passion for teaching.

The reality is, there is tremendous power in knowledge. And providing students with that knowledge, knowledge that they are actually hungry for, is something that you have all played a role in delivering.

Unfortunately, few students can actually learn what it takes to become financially self-sufficient from their parent or guardian, not for lack of wanting to help, but for lack of information. JA bridges that gap, and most students will actually be able to educate their parents as a result.

Last month, I was given an essay prompt in my English class and was asked to write about whether I believed that leadership was something we are born with or if it was something that could be learned. In retrospect, I think a better question would have been: How can people discover their leadership abilities?

Because I am a firm believer that we are all born leaders. We may not all be the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies or Martin Luther King Jr., but we all have that same potential to one day become our personal equivalents to amazing leaders.

Statistically speaking, I, as a minority student raised by a single mother in one of the most expensive cities in the world, should not do very well in school, probably will not go to college, and if I did, it would be highly likely that I would not finish.

Statistically speaking, I should not be here right now having the honor to speak to all of you.

But I am.

And fortunately, I am not the first to do so and refuse to be the last because if there is anything JA has taught me, it is to use my voice and advocate for those who are not here right now, but have benefited and will continue to benefit from the guidance and mentorship JA has given them.

Because “statistically speaking,” the difference between the student I previously described and the one that is standing before you today is not necessarily that I am more intelligent or have worked harder than anyone of those students. It’s that I have been privileged enough to meet some of the most compassionate and inspiring leaders I could have ever come across.

I look up to all of you and although I genuinely do not know what I ever did to be this fortunate, I can only hope that one day I am on the opposite side of this podium,  listening to another student whose life has been changed for the better because of this organization.

Throughout my life, there have been a few times where I can really say that despite our busy schedules, my mother and I have been able to take time for ourselves and feel proud for each other’s accomplishments.

The first being her graduation from college. And the second, this past November at the Junior Achievement Gala. I cannot describe to you how overwhelming yet so rewarding it was to see my mom feel so proud of me.

Moments like that are one of kind. I will never have that exact experience again and for that I am nothing but grateful to all of you for supporting students like me.

And before I let you all go, I would like to ask all of you to do one more thing for me.

When you get home tonight, I want each of you to take a good look in the mirror and remind yourself that every time you have given back and volunteered your time for a Junior Achievement student or anyone in your day to day life, you have helped make that person’s life that much better.

And that is an amazing accomplishment.

Thank you.

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