By Olivia Fu, San Juan Hills High School 2018 Scholar of Scholars, 4.85 GPA
First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone here, to my family, my friends and my teachers, for helping me get here today. I want to give a special shout out to my Las Palmas family for sticking together through all the years, and to Sra. Gonzalez, te amo muchísimo.
Disclaimer: I’m in no ways a good chef. But I feel as though my experience at San Juan Hills High School has been an extraordinarily long episode of the Food Network show Chopped.
For those who don’t watch the show, on Chopped, contestants are given an eclectic basket of mystery ingredients that they must incorporate into a dish of their choice in a short period of time. The contestants with the most creative and well-executed dishes survive elimination, until the final two go head-to-head in the dessert round. Now, what sets the Chopped champion apart is the way they balance and harmonize each basket ingredient, owning the differences and quirks, to create wholly original dishes, even when making something as basic as a salad.
Over the past four years, we the class of 2018, took advantage of all the wackiest mystery ingredients in our baskets and made them our own.
Freshman year was the appetizer round. For some of us, it took a while to appreciate the mystery ingredients in our baskets. It was safe—comfortable—to stay with our friends at freshman orientation, and stay seated during the rollercoaster.
Unlike many of the skilled chefs on Chopped who open their wacky baskets and immediately see a masterpiece in the mess of ingredients, it didn’t click that our mismatched interests, cultures and dreams could coexist as freshman in high school—that we didn’t need to select which parts of our identity to show to the world, and which to hide.
Now keep in mind, the unofficial rule for Chopped’s entree round is that the contestants must successfully blend the five taste groups.
Heading into this entree round of sophomore and junior year, we learned how to embrace the diverse taste groups in our basket.
Salty is the taste of the sweat and tears shed on the field.
Bitter, the strong convictions that drive our activists, journalists and leaders.
Sour, the junior year stress of trying to appease the college board.
And Sweet, the triumphant final bows at a curtain call, set to the pit orchestra’s soaring notes.
Umami–the savoryness born in the overlap of other flavors—is the realization that the Class of 2018 is a unique fusion of all the other elements, and that our masterpieces aren’t confined by any preconceived expectations of how our ingredients should be used.
As we finish up the dessert round of senior year, it’s our turn to master the ice-cream machine that is graduation, and add our individual flourishes to our high school legacies.
Because, ultimately, Chopped teaches chefs how to adapt to the full range of possibilities and obstacles ahead of them, without compromising their unique culinary styles. Our time at San Juan Hills High School has taught us the same thing.
We all have the potential to be champions—as long as we aren’t afraid to disrupt the status quo in pursuit of our vision.
So bring on the next course—I’m excited for any mystery basket the judges throw our way.