Bob Norris, a former Naval aviator, wrote a letter to an aspiring pilot. This pilot was accepted into both the United States’ Navy and Air Force academies, and wished to be a fighter pilot. Bob Norris was asked to help this pilot decide which academy they should attend. Norris described, in his letter, what the experience is like in both branches. While describing the Navy, he said the following, and much more: “The quality of your aircraft varies directly with the availability of parts. The quality of your training will also vary, and sometimes you will be in over your head . . . You will fly in very bad weather, and at night, and you will be scared many times.”

Now when I was thinking of joining the Navy after watching Top Gun, reading this letter scared me straight. I may be crazy, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. All the same, now more than ever, Norris’s words have stuck with me. I’ve thought about what it means to be in over your head. To work in varying conditions, with varying support. To do something that scares you.

My father takes a great interest in American history. Many great figures in our past have led paths for us to learn from. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life; I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

It is here that, not long ago, I made a connection between my life, and the lessons left behind by our ancestors. For a long time, I wondered how to lead a difficult life without leaving behind the parts of life which bring joy. Nearly two and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to begin flight school, and took it. It is the undertaking of this opportunity which brought this lesson together for me.

Part of learning to fly meant working through difficult conditions. This included flying a plane held together with duct tape and zip-ties. Many times my parents drove me for hours off-Island, only to turn around when the weather turned sour. I have been through conditions where I have overwhelmed myself, both in the air and on the ground. I have been thousands of feet in the air, upside-down in a plane that is not meant to go upside-down, and I have been scared.

But through these conditions, I led myself through difficulties and improved while pursuing what makes me happy. It is, after all, possible. And it is done by taking opportunities which do not appear easy. It is at times when we are most overwhelmed and under great pressure that we have the choice to press on. It does not appear easy, because it is not easy. But when the life you envy lies on the other side of a challenge, it is your choice to undertake it.

To my class, I am on stage today to grant you the best advice I have to offer. Wherever you are going, and whatever you are doing, I ask that you choose to be challenged. Take the opportunity to go in over your head. If you put in true, honest work, and fight for your future, you will see progress. There will be days where your efforts will be undone. There will be days where you are rewarded. And some day, you will be proud that you chose to lead a life that was difficult.

Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2022.

Henry D’Andrea is class essayist for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School class of 2022. This was his graduation speech, delivered Sunday at commencement exercises. Speeches by Hardy Eville, class salutatorian, and Ingrid Moore, class valedictorian, appear online.