The following is Highland Park High School’s keynote speaker Emet Mandell’s speech at the May 26 high school graduation ceremony at the Ravinia Festival.

I would like to start by saying hello and thank you to everyone for being here: esteemed teachers, family, friends, graduates and people who showed up early for the Pitbull concert.

I’m sorry to say it’s not for a few more hours. I would sing something for you; I am, in fact, a singer. I sing all the time – in the shower, in the car, at home, so I have a huge fan base.

My name is Emet Mandell, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to speak to all of you today. My time at Highland Park High School has made me the person who stands before you. An outgoing, passionate and optimistic 18-year-old who plans to pursue a career in the most unstable path of modern society, performance.

Thanks to the amazing Mr. Shallenbarger and HPHS, I will spend most of the next 10 years of my life with people asking me, “Really? Do you want to be an actor?”

In all honesty, I have so much to thank for Highland Park High School. One of my favorite quotes, which I have heard many times over the past four years, is “people make the place”, and I can confirm its authenticity.


The joy of my HPHS experience has been guided by my amazing fellow graduates who joined me today. The memories of our high school days that we’ll take with us won’t be the tests we did poorly on or the teams we didn’t make, or the coins we didn’t get. Rather, it will be the successes we have achieved, the fun times we have had, and the lessons we have learned.

For example, in my trigonometry class, I learned that Mrs. Gapinski makes the best homemade buttermilk pancakes, and I also learned…don’t waste time trying to be “Tik Tok famous.” Social media is fake, unhealthy and, to be honest, Mr. Pujara has already beaten us to it.

The high school experience the class of 2022 had was quite different from that of previous generations. The backdrop of our second half of high school was a global pandemic that ultimately forced us to recreate our reality. The online school was quite an experience. After we were all done binging “Tiger King” on Netflix and baking sourdough bread, we logged on to our computers to go to school.

Zoom courses inherently had their challenges, but the main one was the form of communication. Learning and talking to people through screens is not comparable to face-to-face collaboration.

Then again, even in person, we don’t communicate much face to face anyway. What is the need for human interaction when we have the HPHS Giant Life News and Mrs. Finn’s weekly newsletter to keep us up to date? Congratulations to Ms. Finn!

But despite whatever influence the difficulties have had on us, we have shown that together we are stronger than any obstacle.

Despite the adversity that is COVID-19, the situation has had positive results, and I’m not just talking about the beautifully renovated cafeteria. Isolation made us realize the value of in-person learning and helped us realize how lucky we truly are to receive an education at such an exceptional school.

From these difficult times, we have learned resilience and perseverance.

Plus, our time at Highland Park High School taught us to dream, believe, and achieve. Each of us entered Highland Park with a dream. Over the past four years, our dreams have grown and changed, and we’re all about to step into the world ready to pursue them.

Seeing how our lives have adapted in 2020 to the unique situation in the most creative ways through online and outdoor meetings, practices, performances and competitions shows that we have kept the courage to believe. And by just sitting here today, surrounded by our classmates in the blue colored HPHS Giants cap and robes, we’ve made it.

We are a family. We will forever have this community as part of our lives. Yes, I mean it – forever – and in the true nature of a family, you will never get rid of me whether you like it or not. Because one day Giant, always Giant!

In the Class of 2022, we should all be so proud of what we have accomplished. Congratulations to all of us.

Wherever our personal efforts can guide us, I know we will all live giant lives.

Thank you very much for your time.

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