Operation Valedictorian: 5 Questions with Science Hill senior graduation speaker Andrew Keith

Brandon Paykamian • Updated May 16, 2019 at 5:36 PM

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles about area high school valedictorians and class speakers in the Class of 2019. Look for future installments in upcoming editions of Johnson City Press.

Graduating high school is a milestone for any student, but it’s always an extra honor to be selected as the senior speaker at commencement.

Andrew Keith, 18, was recently given the honor to address the Science Hill Class of 2019 on May 25.

The Johnson City native and Science Hill tennis team prankster recently spoke with the Press to tell us more about his time as a student and the obstacles students have to overcome before graduating high school.

Keith also spoke of the teachers who’ve made the biggest impact on him as a student and as a person.

Keith Briefly:

Favorite Food: “Juicy steak”

Favorite Animal: Giraffe

Favorite Musicians: Hans Zimmer and the Eagles

Pet Peeves: “Someone complaining but then not accepting help.”

What have been some of your most memorable memories as a student?

The moments I will cherish for the rest of my life have nothing to do with my GPA, a failed test or the classes I took. Instead, I will remember the community of people that I have had the privilege of knowing and learning from on a daily basis. I will remember the tennis team’s infatuation with messing with our coach’s car. I will remember my calculus class always forcing Mr. Mauldin to go off topic. I will remember walking the halls with friends who will soon be hundreds of miles away. I will never forget my peers who have been an integral, crucial part of my life these last four years.

Which teachers have been most helpful to you as a student?

It would be a much shorter list to name those teachers who haven’t been helpful to me as a student but I will oblige your request. Perhaps the most instrumental teacher I’ve ever had is Angela Taylor (11th grade AP English) who took my passion for writing and allowed me to explore my critical thinking, expand my perspective and engage my curiosity all while constantly showing me ways to improve my writing.

Charles Griffith taught me that history can be fun if you know the right guy. Guy Mauldin taught me that mathematics is not a viable career path for me ... sorry. While there are many more I wish I could mention, I won’t because I think we all know them. They’re the teachers who impact more lives than they could ever know, and they do so with the humblest and kindest of hearts. To those world-changers, we truly appreciate you.

Who inspires you most in life?

My parents serve as a daily reminder of the kind of ideal I should strive for, even if I don’t like admitting it to them. I was blessed to have been raised by parents who value respect, discipline, dedication, loyalty and hard work. I am who I am today because of the beautiful example they set for me every single day. They may not know this but on those days I feel like slacking off and avoiding my responsibilities, their tireless devotion, unquestioning sacrifice and unconditional love never ceases to inspire me to achieve more, think wiser, and work harder. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges students face these days?

Two of the biggest challenges — not just for students but for the whole of society — are the spread of misinformation and the possibly pernicious nature of social media. We open our apps and scroll through the news without even knowing because modern news can take the form of a celebrity’s online opinion, an advertisement on a YouTube video or a popular hashtag. Typically, we don’t dig any deeper than we’re told to, which means we are either left woefully uninformed — or even worse — intentionally misinformed.

I may sound like an old man already, but we have a very limited understanding of the impact social media consumption has on the human brain, especially developing ones. Social media certainly has its uses, but we must be more cautious about how we balance the time we spend in a virtual world where lives are perfectly ideal and the time we spend in the real world where lives are devastatingly human.

If you could make one change to schools across the country, what would it be?

From my personal experience and background, it would be incredibly beneficial to have a class that teaches high schoolers real-world skills and concepts that all of us will inevitably come across. Whether it’s the process of getting a mortgage to buy a home, paying a lot of money in taxes, or understanding retirement plans, high school is the perfect time for everyone to begin to grasp the vital concepts that our very livelihoods might one day depend on. I find it a shame that we graduate from high school without knowing many of the fundamental processes that we will be forced to reckon with. I see no harm in educating young adults about both the depressing reality of taxes and the importance of the Civil War, but that’s just my inexperienced opinion.

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