In the beginning of her high school career, it was Manusri Kalakonda’s parents who encouraged her to attend Business Careers High School. She wasn’t sold at first on a career in business, but through her involvement with Business Professionals of America, or BPA, and learning about entrepreneurship in classes, Kalakonda’s interest grew.

One of Kalakonda’s favorite parts of high school was her time in BPA, a competition-focused organization with contests testing knowledge on business topics including office systems or financial analysis. In her first year, Kalakonda advanced to the state contest.

Coronavirus disrupted how Kalakonda thought the end of her BPA career would go – in-person conferences were cancelled, which disappointed the 18-year-old valedictorian. The last semester felt quite calm and sad, she said.

However, Kalakonda emphasized how much she appreciates her teachers’ efforts on maintaining some kind of a graduation ceremony and senior traditions.

In the fall, Kalakonda will move to Pennsylvania to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. She will major in economics and hopes to specialize in business management. Below is her graduation speech.

When I learned what a valedictorian was four years ago, I decided to pursue that honor. I
worked hard and spent hours stressing and studying to achieve it. But as I stand here
today, wearing this collar and these cords, I know that this honor doesn’t define me.

What defines me is my character. No one achievement, or even a failure, can define a person. It is what a person makes of it and where that person goes from there that defines them. But, I am not the spotlight today, we all are.

We have spent the last 12 years waiting for today. Now we are ready to move on into
what awaits us in the real world. It seems like just yesterday we were leaving middle school and entering the great endeavour that is high school. As we went through our four years, we grew not only in age but as people.

Graduating is not the end, it is the beginning of something greater. These challenging times have shown us how to cherish the moments we spend together and how to persevere through anything. We have proved to the world that we put others before ourselves and can give up anything for their safety.

As this chapter of our life ends, a new one awaits us, with harder challenges and surprises. And even though this moment was altered, we have an entire lifetime to shine. As we all move on with our future, high school will always stay with us as a sweet memory to look back upon.

I would like to end by sharing a quote from a famous movie: “In success there are no full stops. There are only commas.” Success is not a destination, it is a journey, and more
importantly, it is a journey we will all go on.

Manusri Kalakonda is Business Careers High School's 2020 valedictorian.