Writer’s Block: Listening to ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ on repeat

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

The other night I got out of the shower, and my husband asked, “Did you know you were humming ‘Pomp and Circumstance’?”

I did not, and I burst out laughing.

Late May and early June is arguably the busiest time of the year for me as an education reporter. I haven’t quite recovered, apparently.

I attended six graduation ceremonies this year, and with the help of my colleagues and community contributors, we covered a total of 10: Legacy Christian Academy, PACT Charter School, Anoka-Hennepin Regional and Technical high schools, St. Francis High School, Coon Rapids High School, Andover High School, Anoka High School, Blaine High School, Metro North Adult Basic Education and Spring Lake Park High School.

Each ceremony is a little different, and I’ve come to find that the length of graduation at any given school is inversely proportional to the size of the graduating class. With smaller classes, baby pictures are shown and scholarship winners are recognized. Larger classes realize it will take eons just to get everyone through the line to receive their diplomas, so not much else populates the program.

Olivia Alveshere
Olivia Alveshere

I gave a graduation speech at my own commencement ceremony (and sobbed uncontrollably through it), so I always like to listen to the student speeches, furiously taking notes all the while.

My speech centered around a quote from German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”

I still believe that passion is an important ingredient in success.

My speech was very personal and called out many of my 76 classmates by name.

Few speeches, if any, that I heard this year included personal shout-outs, but most did center around a theme.

As an anxious person, I particularly enjoyed PACT Salutatorian Hannah Breitzmann’s address, which focused on overcoming fears. She bravely discussed her own struggle with anxiety, crippling panic attacks, and wove in humor, listing phobias few had heard of – Anatidaephobia, fear of a duck watching somewhere nearby; Pentheraphobia, fear of one’s mother-in-law; and Paraphobia, fear of the pope.

Coon Rapids High School graduate Chun Pha’s speech also caught my attention with its creativity. I’ve heard multiple speeches compare high school to a chapter in a book, but it’s a sign of the times that Pha compared it to a Netflix show students binge-watched – very timely with new seasons of my favorite programs released days before commencement. House of Cards Season 5, anyone?

The graduation at Anoka Technical College for Anoka-Hennepin Regional and Technical high schools is always one of my favorites. Students have overcome so much, and stories shared this year in four student speeches were a testament to students’ hard work and dedication.

Mark Mugambi’s story was particularly gripping. He moved to the United States from Africa to be with his mother, who was given a few months to live after a cancer diagnosis.

She died, but not before imparting the following wisdom, which Mugambi shared with his classmates: “Whatever you dream, dream bigger.”

Many people react sympathetically when I tell them about my start-of-the-summer plans to attend six or more graduations. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

I am always so proud during graduation, even though I don’t usually know any of graduates personally. Securing that diploma is a big deal.

I still get emotional, like I did at my own graduation. The ceremony is a turning point for these young people. Things will never be the same.

Capturing moments before, during and after the ceremony for families is a true privilege.

After a year’s rest, I think I’ll be ready for more next May.

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