Graduate gives valedictory address and takes a world of education, art and a Notre Dame diploma to the University of Michigan.
Two-thousand-seventeen Notre Dame graduate Mariel Manzor gave the valedictory address at the school’s 23rd commencement ceremony, which was held May 21 in the school’s gymnasium. In her address, republished below, she told her fellow grads that humility and small acts of kindness go hand in hand and that they can carry out both in several ways, she told those in attendance.
“One of most important things we can do is to be accepting of all people,” she said. “It is safe and easy to embrace those who are just like us, but it is powerful to understand others’ struggle or perspective. Make the whole world part of your community, but realize that you can impact the whole world with the kindness you show in your own small space.”
Manzor is taking her obvious kindness, strong Notre Dame academics and her experience with art at the school to the university world at U-M, where she said she wants to begin her journey to medical school.
“I will be attending the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor in the honors college,” she said. “I plan on majoring in cell and molecular biology as well as biomedical engineering.”
Manzor’s academic success, however, was also informed by her strong creative side, which manifested itself in a string of notable accolades, including winning one of the school’s record 45 awards in the most recent Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition for the Southeastern Michigan region.
Her winning piece of art, titled “The Day We Left,” reflect an approach to art that began for her, and specifically for her family, when they emigrated from Cuba to the United States in the 1960s. She said she is both Lebanese and Cuban and her art reflected both.
“'The Day We Left' is a piece of art that I am particularly proud of,” she said. It’s a photography piece and in it you see a girl in the background holding a chair and a suitcase. The symbolism in it is meant to show that my family emigrated from Cuba, and at that time, a family of five could only bring one suitcase. The toy chair is to illustrate that the family could only bring one toy as well. Overlaid in the foreground is a family photo — the last photo my family took before coming from Cuba. Because it’s both may family’s story and my own story, this piece of art was really important for me to be able to capture those feelings and those memories.”
Manzor also looks to other successful women artists for inspiration.
Two of my most favorite artists are Shirin Neshat and Frida Kahlo, both of whom are strong and amazing women who did a lot for the art community,” she said. “And Shirin Neshat is still doing a lot for the art community. They both brought personal and cultural stories to the forefront and particularly stories of women. They also weave into their art their own culture, which is something I try to do in my art. I really admire their courage and strength and their amazing use of color and symbolism to get their points across.”
Manzor also said she improved her actual drawing and painting abilities during her art classes at Notre Dame.
“I enjoyed working on my technical skills, exploring various mediums, and to work on my creative being, which means I was working on both sides of my brain at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative aspect and becoming more of a creative thinker, and to really capture other feelings that I have or stories that I want to tell on paper or canvas.”
It appears that Manzor is yet another example of a Notre Dame graduate who heads out in to the world well-equipped and well-studied — and yes, on both sides of the brain — to make that world a much better place.
“Notre Dame has given me a strong academic and creative foundation and work ethic, and it strengthened my faith,” she said. “And it taught me the importance of community and reaching out to help others.”
The following is Mariel Manzor’s valedictory address, which she presented at the 23rd commencement of Notre Dame Preparatory School — May 21, 2017
Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here addressing the Notre Dame Prep Class of 2017, teachers, family and friends. I would like to begin with this thought: “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”
Today, we celebrate the end of our high school careers and the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. We have just been handed our diplomas, our reward for all the late nights and early wake ups, all the essays and projects. Now, as we look to the future, many of us have a clear picture in our heads of how we want our lives to turn out, while some of us are still figuring it out as we go. We all want to go out into the world and leave our mark, leaving some corner better than it was when we found it. There are big things we want to achieve and hurdles that we have yet to conquer. But on the path to achieving our dreams, we need to challenge ourselves every day to do small things with kindness, bravery and humility. This will allow us to make important connections with others and perhaps even change lives.
There is no shortage of role models around us who exhibit these qualities, those who accomplish great things through small acts of kindness and courage. I look up to my grandparents, who made an unimaginable sacrifice in bringing my family to this country. One small act of bravery and of leaving behind everything that was familiar changed the life of our family for generations to come. All of our parents and family members give us the gifts of their time, love and dedication. Each of our families have faced their own unique set of blessings and challenges, and yet they have provided a constant presence of both encouragement and accountability.
Then, their are our teachers and all the staff at NDP who model for us excellence and compassion. Not only have they given us an invaluable education, they have helped mold us into the people we are today. Ms. LewAllen, who brings out the artist that many of us did not know was buried deep inside. Mr. Osiecki, who heard a calling to teach and has imparted an invaluable knowledge of the world to his students through teaching history. Father Joe, whose presence in our school reminds us to always be aware of our moral compass and to look to God for guidance. Ms. Pasko and Ms. Lytle in the front office, who demonstrate what true hospitality looks like, greeting each visitor and student as if they were family.
Our friends who are there to reassure us and to challenge us to be our best selves. We laugh together, grow together and make lifelong memories together. I hope we can be there for each other for the big events in our futures, but also to remember how important it is to stay connected through daily ups and downs. Our lives will not always be perfect and it is in this friendship community that we can find strength. Let’s continue to reach out to one another, even though distance and different college campuses may separate us.
Humility and small acts of kindness go hand in hand, and we can carry out both in several ways. One of most important things we can do is be accepting of all people. It is safe and easy to embrace those who are just like us, but it is powerful to understand others’ struggle or perspective. Make the whole world part of your community, but realize that you can impact the whole world with the kindness you show in your own small space. In order to be inclusive and respectful of all people, let us openly listen to other’s points of view and be unafraid to present our own beliefs. It takes courage to be humble and to reach out to others in kindness, so we must also be fearless.
For the rest of our lives, we will have a choice between fear and love — choose love. In those times when life is challenging, failure does not define us, but rather it is a part of a larger journey and lesson. Failing on the way to a dream is inevitable and in the end makes success that much sweeter.
The same goes for our relationships. Reach out to others; you never know the impact they could have on your life or you on theirs. Fully embrace who you are. As we venture out into the larger world beyond NDP, let us be fearless in staying true to our faith and values.
Courage. Kindness. Humility. These traits are ones we already possess and will become even more important as we venture through the rest of our lives. Notre Dame Prep Class of 2017, I challenge each of you and me to achieve our dreams and leave our impact on this world — one small act of kindness and bravery at a time.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.