During its June 8 commencement ceremony, the St. Francis High School turned nearly 400 high school seniors into new graduates.
Over the last four years, “we have spent 688 days together,” said Principal Paul Neubauer.
“We made it. Woo,” said Cody Joos, student speaker.
The class motto of “Together we have experienced life, separately we will purse our dreams and forever our memories will remain,” could not be truer for the class of 2012, he said.
Once again they are gathering as a group as they did four years ago for freshman orientation, Joos said.
Then they believed they ruled and were big shots of the school, even though they were the youngest students in the school, he said.
“Hey, we were the freshman class,” Joos said.
“We were ready to dive in and take on this high school thing and breeze on by.”
“But in the back of our minds, we were a bit scared (at) entering a new school with older kids and grades that determine our future.”
They also began to experience the ups and downs of life as well as the good and bad moments, Joos said.
“We experienc(ed) we can’t always get what we want,” he said.
As students, they realized life was getting tougher, Joos said.
Now that they have become graduates, it is going to be tougher and life will have all kinds of challenges for them, he said.
“We have to know how take them on and succeed as we are now,” Joos said.
“We are taking our own paths to the future.”
The second student speaker, Alex Gray, picked up on that theme.
No individual plan is the same, he said to his fellow seniors.
They are done with high school, collected their diplomas and now it’s into the real world, Gray said.
“We won’t be pursuing our dreams together, but we cannot be afraid of what the future holds in store because the separation is… part of life,” he said.
As Master Yoda said “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering,” said Gray giving an impression of the “Star Wars” character.
While the class of 2012 had a motto, some students did not know it, but that did not matter to student speaker Nicole Koonce.
Not knowing what the motto was does not mean the students haven’t lived by it, she said.
They have been kindergartners together practicing letters and numbers to writing 15-page research papers, Koonce said.
“Today we say goodbye to those friends,” she said.
“Today is the day realize we are no longer sitting next to just seniors, instead we are sitting next to future engineers, doctors and teachers.”
As kids, they were constantly asked what they wanted to be when they grew up and today is a point that answers that question, Koonce said.
“Some still don’t know. Don’t worry, you still have time,” she said.
School Board member Amy Kelly and Board Chairperson Marsha Van Denburgh also spoke to the students.
“Life is an amazing and incredible journey. Your journey to success will not be straight. There will be curves, speed bumps and unexpected detours,” Kelly said.
“Believe in yourself. Don’t use mistakes as an excuse but as an opportunity to learn and grow.”
“Surround yourself in people who believe in your dreams. Don’t be afraid to dream big and to follow your dreams wherever they may lead you,” Kelly said.
When it comes to a career, Kelly encouraged the graduates to find their gifts and passion, rather than looking at how much money they will make at it.
“Money will not buy you happiness. Instead find your gift and discover your passion,” she said.
“When you do, you will discover you don’t have live to work, but you will work to live – and there is a difference.”
Tonight will begin a new reality for the graduates, Van Denburgh said.
“I want to inspire you with something from someone a little more familiar to many of you, a great 21st century philosopher- Mr. Johnny Depp,” she said.
Van Denburgh quoted a line from Depp’s 1995 movie, “Don Juan deMarco.”
“There are four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”
“In the last few years, you have had to do thing you did not love, but love shapes you more than you think,” she said.
Van Denburgh challenged the graduates to:
“• Instead of focusing on winning, I hope you will play to teach others;
“• Instead of remaining silent about society’s problems, I hope you will speak up;
“• Instead of allowing hatred to rule your life, I hope you will lead with love;
“• Instead of avoiding things, I hope you will embrace someone that offends you;
“• Instead of always asking what am I getting out of this, I hope you will challenge yourself to see what you can give to others;
“• Instead of allowing despair to rule over you, I hope you can be happy and thankful for your circumstances; and
“• Instead of spending your lives accumulating things, I hope you can give to others.”
“Make love a verb in your life. Instead of just dreaming it, do it,” Van Denburgh said.
During the ceremony, two students were presented with the Citizenship Award, which is given to students who exemplify the traits of citizenship, including community involvement, helping fellow students and citizens and being a productive member of society.
This year’s recipients were Taylor McClung and Ben Burdorf.
Three students were also presented with the All-around Student Award.
Alex Gray, Parker Gessner and Jessica Pelkey were given the award, which honors students who are involved arts, athletics and activities while maintaining high academic standards through rigorous course selection.
Graduation photos can be ordered by clicking on the “My Capture” button.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org