Column: Graduates prepared by teachers, families, each other

One of the great honors a school district superintendent has to attend – and speak at – is graduation.

Jeff Ronneberg
Jeff Ronneberg

I had the extreme pleasure of addressing 334 Spring Lake Park High School graduates and their families at the May 31 commencement exercises. Three seniors also had the opportunity to share memories and advice for their classmates. What follows are concluding comments from each of these four talks – all of which honor the great Class of 2013 and serve as a perfect send-off as they head into a future filled with promise and opportunity.

Angel Godinez: Student Speaker, Learning Alternatives Community School

To all of you in the stands, especially those of you who have not yet graduated, I have just one piece of advice for you. You will make mistakes. You might even fail from time to time, but you must not let those mistakes and failures keep you down. You must push through the hard times, you must keep focus on your education.

A quote that one of my teachers has on the wall in her classroom reads: “We do what we have to do in order to do what we want to do.” Focus on the everyday details, getting to class on time, getting your work done, noticing the needs of those around you, and you will meet your goals.

Every day, you must figure out the right thing and do it because a lot of people are watching you; some will even be looking up to you. I am the oldest brother in my family. It isn’t easy knowing that if I fall, my younger brothers will see and may follow me. I will try my hardest to prevent that from happening.

Emily Lukens: Student Speaker, Spring Lake Park High School

Who knows where we’ll go? Some of us will go on to four-year universities, some straight into the workforce, some to technical or community college and some to the military. But no matter where we go or what we do, we’re prepared. There is nothing the world out there can throw at us that we aren’t prepared to face. We’ve been prepared by our by amazing teachers. We’ve been prepared by a strong administration. We’ve been prepared by our families and by each other. But maybe, more than all of this, we’ve been prepared by change.

Think of how much fun it will be to come back 10 or 20 years from now and see all the amazing changes in our lives. I predict that we’re going to be a pretty successful class. Not necessarily because we’re the smartest, not because we’re the most athletic and not because we’re the most industrious. We’re going to be successful because we know how to adapt and grow. We know how to deal with change.

This is only the beginning, Class of 2013; it’s been an amazing ride, and I can’t wait to see where life takes us.

Jack Fish: Student Speaker, Spring Lake Park High School

Parents: I know that I can say this on behalf of all my fellow graduates, that we owe so much more than you will ever know, as we embark on yet another chapter of our lives, one that we’ve been led to through the love and support of our families.

Teachers: If we were falling behind, you would be there to help catch us up. You spent hour after hour after that final bell, away from your homes, all to offer your help to those who needed it, and for that, your job will always be one that represents the integrity and kindness that we all value as humans. We could not have made it to where we are today without the many staff members who made our schools what they are today.

Students: As we say goodbye to District 16 tonight and say hello to college campuses all around the state, all around the country and all around the world, just remember that goodbye isn’t always the end, but sometimes a new beginning, a new start, a new chapter in our lives.

Jeff Ronneberg, Superintendent: Spring Lake Park School District

In a few minutes, the work of your teachers and district staff will be done, and we send you out on what will be over 300 separate journeys – and you will begin making all of your own choices.

While chance and luck always have some influence, it will be the little choices you make each day that will have the biggest influence on your success. Each year I share three thoughts with graduates because I believe in them so strongly.

My grandfather meant the world to me. He was the epitome of a learner to the very end of his life. There was a message that he always shared with me: “Be curious and ask questions. You’ll never get through life if you try to do it all yourself.” I truly believe that no one achieves success by him or herself, and the successful individual is humble enough and curious enough to know that there is always more to learn.

The second thought I leave with you is really about personal integrity. When it comes right down to it, only you know the effort with which you approach a task, a challenge or an opportunity. A favorite teacher and coach I had in high school shared the following simple and powerful message by John Wooden, the legendary – and arguably most successful – coach in the history of sports: “Doing the best you are capable of is victory in itself; anything less is defeat.” This is how I define personal integrity. Ultimately, it is only you, when you look in the mirror, who truly knows if your effort is a victory … or a defeat.

Finally, even when we each face life with our very best effort, we need the support, and sometimes a push, of those who surround us. This is the final thought I leave you with – be appreciative.

Take the time to celebrate. Take the time to recognize the support others provide for you. You each have someone who has made a difference for you and who is always rooting for you: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, and teachers and other school staff.  You may appreciate them now, or maybe it will come later. I urge you to take the time tonight, or this weekend, to say, “Thanks.”

So, Class of 2013, the future is right in front of you. The rest is up to you, and the small and big choices you make each day. So, again, three things: Be curious and ask questions, demonstrate personal integrity as you approach life, and be appreciative.

I leave you with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who captures the importance of learning and enjoying life in this simple thought: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

The world awaits you. Think big. Think different. I wish each of you the best of luck as you set out to change and improve the world.

Jeff Ronneberg is the superintendent of the Spring Lake Park School District 16.

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