There are quite a few speeches and letters circulating around the internet for the Class of 2020, understandably so. However, this particular one by Lina Abdellatif, a Chalmette High student, hits home and is more important than ever. Lina was one of the Valedictorians at Chalmette High, named Student of the Year, and a Posse scholarship recipient to the Notre Dame.
Lina dedicated her valedictorian speech by calling students to a greater meaning beyond themselves. She did this through one of my favorite historical songs – “Bella Ciao” – an anti-fascist Italian anthem. Coming from Italian immigrants and a legacy of family fighting Nazis during WWII, it struck a cord with me.
Unfortunately, Lina’s message only reached a small audience due to the pandemic. I wanted it to reach a wider audience because she deserves it, and we need to hear it. She granted me permission to post this moving and inspirational ballad.
Below is her address, unedited, for the Class of 2020.
“’Una mattina, mi sono alzato, o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao’
In 1912, anti-fascists in Italy supporting the resistance movement sung these lyrics to fight two wars directly attacking the ‘partisians’: a war of national liberation against fascist occupation and a class war against the reigning elitists. These lyrics directly translate to ‘One morning I awakened, O beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye.’ This valedictory address is my parting gift to the class of 2020; although sung in 1912, this song still maintains relevance today. The song ‘Beautiful goodbye’ alludes to the daunting farewells power and elitism brings; to the silenced, working class in Italy, this translated to Goodbye to my beautiful country, goodbye to the resistance movement, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. Within our society we too are facing a crisis of ‘goodbyes,’ and more often do our fellow peers fall victim to problematic and overbearing entities that point the fingers at the people they are supposed to be protecting. As John Locke puts it, when an overbearing ruler fails to secure the general will of the people, citizens can withdraw their obligation to obey.
During our own great global crisis, we are now leaving our world of comfort and security and entering a world of uncertainty, a world run on hierarchies and classist divisions. Rooted in our disconnect from the world around us is a failure to build upon the collective consciousness of our friends, family, and neighbors. On mornings where our upbringings are compromised, will we come together as a community–realize the struggles of our brothers and sisters are that of our own–and rise against the crisis at hand?
Although I thank everybody for the opportunity to speak up here today–my family, my friends, and the faculty and staff who have supported me along the way, a valedictory address is almost selfish, don’t you think? We are highlighting the already privileged by perpetuating the state’s definition of ‘success,’ bringing power to the socially-acceptable. Ultimately, it is important to realize that awards like these fail to recognize the diverse and well-rounded people who may have ways of living that are not supported by the status quo. We should avoid allowing elitism to infect our society, and we must resist the urge to solely listen to the represented. With that being said, I hope the class of 2020 understands why we are here today, and why the applause is ethereal, commotive, and inspiring.
It would be easy to succumb to a world of negativity and accept a nihilistic perspective on the world, but again, this is our day. We are the future, and I say this with the utmost admiration. We are the cohort united not only by struggle and turmoil, but also by ambition. By creating something beautiful during the essence of upheaval, we are maintaining our individuality, and creating our light in august. Class of 2020, we never had it the easy way, but when we care about each other, when we recognize each other’s common struggles, we can divide and conquer as a nation, not as separate classes, parties, or races. With knowledge and community comes understanding and social progress. The innocence and frivolity of highschool, for instance, can flash before your eyes just as quickly as you can say ‘goodbye,’ but ensuring that future generations get to grow exponentially and experience life through the lenses of each other will ensure they will never have to say ‘ciao.’
So to the Class of 2020, I tell you; stay progressive, keep resisting, ‘O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao.’”