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Gianna’s Graduation Speech

May 1, 2013

Hello, my name is Gianna Biaggi, and I am a seventeen year old senior at Sonoma Valley High School. I live with my two younger brothers, younger sister, and mom and dad. I have lived in the Sonoma Valley for my entire life. It is a small, rural town; the type of town where you see your dentist at the movie theater, or third grade teacher walking the same paths that you run. While there is certainly a tourist aspect to the town, I prefer to focus on the historical and literary significant background. Sonoma is home to Jack London State Park, the ranch created by famous California author, Jack London, and his wife, Charmian Kitteredge. The park is my favorite part of the Valley; it is the reason Sonoma has become, “The Valley of the Moon.”

Although I did not think I was going to be chosen to participate in the Youth Ambassador’s program, I decided to apply anyways, just for fun. After becoming close friends with Tove, an exchange student from Sweden living in Sonoma for a year, I realized how much of the world I had never seen, and how many different people and places were waiting to be discovered. Summer in Sonoma can take an eternity; I wanted a reason to leave “small town America.” I was also interested in practicing my Spanish; I have taken four years of Spanish at the high school level, and wanted to see if I could speak as well as my grades suggested I did.

I truly believe that my stay in Paraguay was the happiest three weeks of my life. I cannot remember a time when I was surrounded by so many like-minded individuals, all working towards a common goal of helping their respective communities. My host family was amazing; they welcomed me, a complete stranger, with open arms, and provided me with anything and everything I could have ever wanted, or needed during my stay. I have so many favorite memories, that I simply cannot pick one that stands out more than the others. Growing up in a small town, with the same children I have known since kindergarten, Paraguay was an opportunity for me to grown within myself in an unfamiliar environment.  I learned how to make new friends, speak a new language, and talk to people of all different backgrounds. While my time in Paraguay was invaluable, the lessons I brought back to Sonoma have changed the life for the better. I am more confident in my abilities to talk to my peers, adults, or young children. I don’t care if I don’t fit in, or am not the typical Sonoma girl, because I am myself, and that is all that matters to me.

In order to help support and appreciate Jack London State Park, I decided two create a two pronged Community-Based Initiative (CBI), a program at Sonoma Valley High School, as well as a program for the entire community. Through the support of my favorite teacher, Ms. Manchester, I created the Wolf Club, named after Jack’s illustrious nickname, “Wolf.” Through Wolf Club meetings, I was able to raise money to fund the project, recruit volunteers, and spread the word about Jack London State Park throughout the high school community. With the help of Wolf Club members, Ms. Manchester, and the director of Jack London State Park, I was successfully able to create Jack’s Ambassadors, a program for middle school students that is based off of my experience with the Youth Ambassadors. Through Jack’s Ambassadors, I aspire to create environmental understanding and appreciation for the beauty of Jack London State Park throughout the community as a whole. Thus far, five sessions of Jack’s Ambassadors have been held, all focusing on specific community service projects to help serve the park. Through our partnership with the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, the Jack’s Ambassadors and SVHS Wolf Club members were allowed to clean up inside of Jack London, and his wife Charmian’s grave, which has not been touched since 1955. We were the first people to set foot in the gravesite after Charmian’s death and burial (I geeked out a lot! Living History!! Yeee) Our biggest project has been our mural, which should be completed within the next two sessions. We transformed an ordinary maintenance shed into a visual representation of the Valley of the Moon, and Jack’s personal appreciation for Sonoma. I was incredibly blessed with two extremely talented artists, willing to put their time and energy into the mural project. Thank you, Pio Valenvuelza and Itzel Macedonion! At every session, we had between three and ten children participating; and performed both community service, as well as activities about Jack as a person, an author and a philosopher. Ultimately, I believe that I have succeeded in my goal of drawing more community support for the park; I hope to further appreciate the park through the remaining sessions of Jack’s Ambassadors.

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