Welcome friends and family members of these wonderful graduates. I was honored to be chosen to address this class. While I appreciate seeing so many friendly and familiar faces in the audience, my words tonight are really for the grads.
I have enjoyed each of you enormously, with some giving me lots of laughs, and with few giving me any grief. You have been such good friends to each other, pulling your fellow classmates along to make sure that each of you would make it to this ceremony tonight. I have watched you tutor each other through the hardest classes – Econ and English, and coach and encourage each other as you prepared for your senior project presentations, and you have each been living examples of the spirit of community that exists in our little place.
You have all been there for me as well, during the hardest semester I have ever had… first, I lost my dog, then I lost my job, one son moved away and another had a life-threatening injury resulting in surgery and convalescence at home with us this spring.
Through my trials, there was never a day that one of you wasn’t the one to brighten my spirits and lift them over the hard spots…
Raymond and Jeff with their humor and country music…
Aaron with his good will and easy-going nature
Daniel with his “Feed Me” t-shirt bringing me a laugh every time
Travis with his ADDOs and singing at the top of his lungs
Hannah and Maggie with their dedication to getting the work done, lifting some of the load from me
Mindy with her love of animals and understanding of how much my own animals comfort me
Rana, who shares my birthday and always had a compliment waiting for me
And Kayla with her sense of adventure… going on Wilderness Challenge outings with me the past several years, pushing me to learn to link my turns when we were out snowboarding this winter, and starring at Teenwork… we had a great time at Disneyland together!
Each of you has grown up with the foundation of coming from a special place where people look out for each other, and I know that will serve you well as you move on to the next steps in your various lives. Each one of you has proven to be a compassionate, caring person, who will be there for their friends and family.
For most of you, graduating from high school signals that it is time to move on, out into the larger world, in search of further education, new challenges, maybe even someplace different to go out to eat.
Yes, it IS small here, and you need to see other sights, but I want you to leave here knowing your community loves each one of you, and values you for the unique individual that you are. We are proud of each of you and the fact that you hung in there and finished high school.
However, this certainly isn’t the end, the final accomplishment… in fact it is just the beginning. As an adult, life stretches before you at this moment, filled with endless possibilities… my best advice to you is to follow your passion. Start trying those things you always wanted to do – whether it is taking flying lessons or learning French in college…
There are many things that haven’t been available to you yet that will help you define who you are going to be next, and what you are going to do to contribute to the world around you. You have to love what you do, as much as I love teaching and living here, in order to get through the tough times that will inevitably come up along the way… it may be a surprise to see how much things cost once you have to pay for everything yourself, and it may be hard not to be known and trusted by everyone, as we are used to here in our community, but doing what makes you proud of yourself will go a long ways towards earning that trust in new situations, with new people…. And to getting used to begin on your own…. so will knowing where the local Grocery Outlet and Dollar Store are…
The other suggestion I want to make to you is to be flexible… Over the course of your adult working life, you are likely to have at least five major career changes, according to the latest research. You will need flexibility to change as the world changes around you. Those career changes might not always be by choice, as jobs become obsolete over time and replaced by new ways of doing things.
You will change too, over the course of your life. Sara asked me today “Did you always want to be a teacher?” … I had to answer that when I was finishing high school that was the last thing on my mind…. Many of my relatives had been in education and I wanted to do something different. By the time the opportunity presented itself to begin teaching here at Downieville eight years ago, I was ready to embrace the challenge. You will re-define yourself over and over as you go through life…. You are much more than just the job title you carry.
You will outgrow job titles and things will change throughout your life, but developing flexibility will help you to see what is best to do with your life next, and will give you the courage to leap forward to the challenge.
Each one of you has vowed to keep in touch with the rest of your graduating class, and that may not always be easy. You will probably go in different directions and land at opposite ends of the world, as the classes before you have done. But leave here tonight knowing that, just as you made this major accomplishment happen, you can make anything else you want happen… and these classmates surrounding you and sharing this special moment of glory with you tonight, as well as this loving community that is so proud of each of you, will always be there in your memory to cheer you on…
I have these props here with me to remind me to tell you two last, brief thoughts…
First, surround yourself with beauty… it is very healing (coleus plant).
Second, be compassionate (kleenex box)… I wish you all the best ... and remember to love much and laugh often…