Watching you walk across the graduation stage on Friday, I was surprised by my emotions. Even though I haven’t taught you for the past four years, I felt pride. Accomplishment. Nostalgia. A letting go. The shadowy memories of you as rambunctious, noisy 13-year-olds juxtaposed with the physical evidence of you as young men and women awaiting your turn to influence Elk Point and the world.
In the six years since you entered F.G. Miller School, you have grown. As Ramsey put it, “I’ve moved from my no moustache phase, to my moustache phase, to my new no moustache phase”: the metamorphosis from child, to teen, to adult.
Twenty four out of 33 of you have been together since kindergarten, which has given you time to appreciate each other’s uniqueness. Your school years were filled with opportunities to grow closer. In his valedictorian address, Chris remarked, “Our time at FG Miller has strengthened our roots.” Carter’s performance of ‘O Canada,’ with the whole class as backup singers, reinforced those roots and illustrated the most important lesson – every one of you has talents to share.
Your small town education came with many benefits. Teachers were full members in the circle of influence begun by your parents. Teachers got to know you, and helped you develop not just academically, but physically, emotionally, socially, and ethically. Even those of us who have moved out of your lives share an interest in your growth.
From your parents, you learned kindness and concern for others. They impressed safety upon you. As Shayla said: “If a stranger asked if I wanted candy, even if I did, to say, ‘No thanks.’”
Other kids’ parents also accepted responsibility in protecting and guiding you. Vanessa’s mom, Jean Ockerman, reminded everyone, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Classmates’ parents supervised field trips or dances, cheered or coached your sports, chauffeured you to tournaments, hosted sleepovers or parties, lead clubs, and encouraged you to find your passion. Sometimes your friends’ parents became like your parents, and sometimes your parents provided guidance to your friends, and sometimes your friends’ parents were also your classroom teachers. All took a role in raising you.
Dawson and Amy, when you passed the Crusader Sword to Dana and Jaden, you symbolically gave up your class’ seniority in the school. But your class will never entirely leave the school. There are physical legacies – sports banners, yearbook photographs, art work, awards plaques; and personal legacies – friendships, mentorships, kindnesses, values, and service. Your influence in this school will expand far beyond what is tangible.
We know you weren’t always the dignified, responsible citizens you portrayed at Friday’s ceremony. Mr (Jon) Randall clarified that the past six years haven’t been all roses. But you were kids. You were ruled by emotions. Sometimes, the devilment overcame you and you ‘poked the bear’ just to see what would happen. Now, your education and maturity have lead you to consider consequences of your actions. You have learned to appreciate others’ opinions or lifestyles or interests or abilities. As Chris said, learning comes from paying attention to people who have knowledge to share.
So, always be open to learning. Expand your knowledge. Use it to take your small town education into the big world. Your teachers, your families, your classmates and I will be watching with wishes of love, laughter, and learning. Work hard. Dream big!
F.G. Miller Jr/Sr High School, Elk Point Graduating Class of 2017