A few months ago, A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School senior Jarreth Caldwell got a tattoo of a flying bird on his back.
It was supposed to represent his growth as an individual and a desire to expand his horizons. But when he posted a photo on Facebook, his friends didn’t see it that way. They asked why he would get a tattoo of a bunny rabbit, of a three legged donkey. They seemed to see everything but a bird.
On Monday, as he gave his salutatorian speech to the graduating class and hundreds in the James Brown Arena, Caldwell told his classmates not to get stuck in people’s perceptions.
The dogma of others shouldn’t matter and doesn’t define who we are, he said.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought I really am more of a Rorschach ink blot than a bird,” Caldwell said.
As his classmates go out to achieve their goals, Caldwell reminded them to take control of their fate. Caldwell said countless people told him to lower his expectations when he was applying to college, but he persevered after getting rejected by four schools.
His persistence paid off. Caldwell will attend Harvard University to study biomedical engineering.
As she listened to Caldwell in the audience, Karri Sykes said his words carried a lot of weight. Sykes, who was watching her son’s girlfriend graduate, said leaving high school is a time for young people to grow into what they want to be.
“Up until now, they were their own person but they were being molded by what their parents, their teachers told them,” she said. “Now they are about to be able to say ‘No, this is who I plan to be, who I want to be.’”