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Yenika's Senior Speech

Yenika Fondungallah's Senior Speech

Yenika Fondungallah '21

Freedom. It’s something that we all chase--something we all strive to gain and or acquire. Properly defined as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”. My sense of freedom has always been something that I hold in the highest importance to my identity and evolution as a person. I’ve always been seen as a socialite or someone that knew everyone and everything. I was the kid who was really good at football and basketball. I was put into that claustrophobic box that I didn’t see a way out of. I didn’t feel like I could tell people what I really liked, the music I really listened to, the movies I liked to watch, and all the other things that made me who I am. Coming into a school like STA didn’t exactly resolve the issue either, as I had my eyes set on Cretin-Derham Hall throughout my middle school years. To say that coming here was a culture shock would be a huge understatement. I was no longer the smartest and most popular kid at my school and I didn’t relate to almost any of the kids. As you all can see, I undoubtedly stand out amongst most of my Cadet peers. That fact troubled me throughout my first two years at the Academy. Because of who others thought I was--because of how I looked, I felt that I had to act or be a certain way. I didn’t feel free to be myself, and I didn’t have the luxury of having that one group of friends that made my time at STA worthwhile, I had to figure it out on my own. It may come as a surprise to most of the student population, due to my amazing ability to hide it, but I was struggling in more ways than most. With that being said, there was a turning point in my junior year to where I felt like I was becoming free again. Though I can’t pinpoint it to a certain moment, I told myself I wasn’t going to compromise my identity as an individual, and as a black man to live up to the assumptions of those around me to be the most athletic or only listen to hip hop, or whatever the case may be. To free myself, I had to dissolve my care for what others thought of me and grow into the version of me today that listens to, explores, and wears whatever I want, despite people thinking it’s weird or “not drip”. I came to a realization that being unapologetically myself was the only way to free myself from the plethora of boxes that I felt were caging me in, and plenty of people were crucial to my gradual epiphany. Whether it was deep talks with Madame Little, Mr. Kappe, or Mr. Steveson about whatever was going on in my head, to music suggestions like MF DOOM, George Duke, and Arthur Verocai from my old math teacher Mr. Young, and long ambitious conversations with my brother Denzel about fashion and my future plans, they all played a part in the culmination of the Yenika you see here today. I can’t forget both of my parents for all they’ve sacrificed, coming all the way from Cameroon and creating greatness out of nothing, all in hopes to make sure my brothers and I could be the free black men we are today. I’m truly grateful and appreciative of all they’ve done for me and I don’t say it nearly as much as I should, but Mom and Dad, I love you guys. Throughout my upbringing, I’ve seen many people close to me have their freedom taken from them due to the jail system or gun violence. The immense pressure and discrimination towards African-Americans such as myself, not only in the country but right here in this STA community is something that is in the process of a slow and gradual change that seems to shift only as much as they want it to. My patience and pride were tested on multiple occasions and I can’t help but wonder how we would respond if I wasn’t as level-headed as I am. Even my hair comes into question with the “standards” of the academy when there are no real guidelines set in place for the hair types of people of color. These issues are bigger than just me and can set a precedent for future students and how their freedom may be limited in the years to come. My ability to stand up here and give this speech shows what holding onto freedom in creativity can do for other kids like me and for the future of the Academy. So, that concept, that idea, that word is more than just a word to me. It’s a feeling. It’s the ability to sit down and have dinner with my family, or go play a sport that I love. It’s the feeling of hearing a new song that is so good that you stare at your phone for ten minutes. I consider myself a simple person and simple things give me a sense of freedom. Sometimes freedom is best expressed through something other than a speech. So I wrote a poem in dedication to my late friend and brother Marcus Rashon Johnson to capture my search for freedom.

you are the creator of my demise
my eternal cohort
the apple of my eye
my so on and so forth
on the pivot of the shackle

my forefathers clawed and scratched
to the moon and back
in search to be the first
to test the slime of greener pastures
yet the party of three
me myself and I, lie in doubt
maybe as simple as murphy’s law
but I wonder what Marcus saw
no harm no foul
no strings attached
no rules of engagement
they left him on the pavement
I have no doubt he saw you
the one and only
as clear as the sky is blue
the rock in the hardest place
the tether of my motivation
or inspiration
with no implications
the creator of my demise
my eternal cohort
the apple of my eye
my so on as well as my so forth
my freedom.