Graduates asked to question, focus on what matters
|IN A TRADITIONAL graduation rite, Prospect Mountain graduates heave their mortarboards into the air at the conclusion of Friday’s graduation ceremony. See more photos in our print edition. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)|
June 14, 2010ALTON — While the world they are entering might be more like a "jar of jalapeños" than a box of chocolates (in the words of keynote speaker Mark Anthony), the 130 students who celebrated their graduation from Prospect Mountain High School last week were urged to look toward the future with an open mind and reach for success with the skills they've learned.
Welcoming parents and friends to the high school's 2010 Commencement ceremony on June 11, Principal Jay Fitzpatrick revived a tradition he began last year by asking a trio of graduates to recognize family members who had served the high school in some way.
"Here's to two moms, a dad, and a grandma," he said as graduates Sarah Fraser (whose mother, Cathy, is the school's librarian and whose father, Wayne, served on the school board that founded Prospect Mountain), Kelsey Hopper (whose mother, Joyce, also served on the school board in the past), and Kayla Wyatt (whose grandmother, Sandy, currently sits on the high school board) came down into the audience to honor their family members with a hug.
Explaining that he had arrived at Prospect Mountain "as a freshman" along with this year's graduating class four years ago, Fitzpatrick said he had shared their anxiety about coming to a new place, and had seen them mature (and seen himself grow "a lot more gray hair") during their four years together.
His parting advice to the graduates, he said, was to "do unto others as you have done unto me."
"And by that, I mean ask questions" and challenge adults "profusely" to the point where they start to notice gray hairs, he added, jokingly listing some of the questions he had wrestled with over the past four years, such as why graduate Chanelle Berryman never seemed able to let a day go by without approaching him with the comment "Now, Fitzy, you know you wish you looked this good."
Just as important as asking questions, Fitzpatrick went on, is the ability to listen to the answers.
"There's an old saying that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak," he said, urging the graduates to take that advice to heart.
"And please don't forget what we tried to teach you — the importance of being a good person," he added.
What lies within
"I almost can't believe it," Salutatorian Ashley Barsanti said as she stepped up to the podium, recalling the days when Britney Spears was all the rage among her classmates and chewing gum in class was considered the ultimate act of rebellion.
Although she was "slightly scared" at the prospect of venturing out into the world, Barsanti said she felt ready to move forward armed with an education that had prepared her and her fellow graduates well for the challenges they will face as they make their way in the world.
That sense of preparedness, she said, was due in large part to Prospect Mountain's teachers, who constantly pushed her and her classmates to test their limits.
"It wasn't always easy, but I thank you for that," she added, addressing her teachers.
Barsanti also thanked her parents for supporting her and challenging her to better, particularly during a rough time in first grade, and urged her classmates to take the time to thank their families, as well.
"Without them, none of us would be graduating today.
Urging her fellow graduates not to measure their success in life by the type of car they drive or the size of the house they live in, Barsanti stated her own philosophy that the true measure of success is "getting up in the morning and getting to do the thing you love."
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us," she said in closing, quoting 19th Century New England poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Valedictorian Sean Dinneen said that what had impressed him most during his time at Prospect Mountain was the "lack of social barriers" within the high school, and the willingness of students to put their differences aside and work together.
That sense of camaraderie, he said, came home to him recently, when fellow graduate Shayne Kennedy — whom he hadn't spoken to in quite some time — came up behind him in the library during a study hall and proceeded to give him a back rub, as though the two of them had never fallen out of touch with each other.
Thanking his teachers for their constant efforts to challenge him and help him reach his full potential, Dinneen said he had never seen a group of people more qualified to perform their jobs than the high school's faculty.
He was particularly impressed, he added, by the ability of teachers to work together within their respective departments.
Dinneen also acknowledged the support of his family, which he described during an emotional moment as "a constant source in my life that I can rely on."
He concluded his speech with a message of hope for his classmates.
"I hope you all live in peace, and find what you're looking for," he said.
"More 'I'm glad I did' than 'I wish I had'"
School board Chairwoman Lynda Goossens opened her address to the graduates by congratulating them on "a job well done."
"You have a lot to be proud of," she said, commenting on the graduating class' ability to "rise to the top" in all areas during its four years at Prospect Mountain.
While some of those who graduated this year might not realize how much of an impact they have had on their community, Goossens said, a community is like a spider's web, and a tug on any strand of the web is felt.
"You have touched many lives, and you will continue to do so," she added, urging the graduates to return to their communities and share their post-high school experiences.
Commenting that the increasingly fast-paced nature of society has made it more important than ever before to slow down and take a moment to reflect on what has been done and what is left to accomplish, Goossens encouraged the graduates to take that opportunity once the celebrations are over.
"Learn from your mistakes, celebrate your accomplishments, and learn to embrace all that lies ahead," she said, adding that she hoped the graduates would experience "more 'I'm glad I did' than 'I wish I had'" moments in their lives.
Ryan Gilpatrick, one of the graduating class' faculty advisors, said that when he raised his hand to volunteer for the position as a new teacher four years ago, he initially thought he had volunteered for the school's advisory program.
"It was the best mistake I've made in my teaching career," he said, explaining that he and fellow class advisor Cathy Fraser had "learned a lot" from the graduates.
The first thing they learned was that there were "a lot of natural leaders" in this year's graduating class, he said, pointing to the efforts of a small group of ringleaders to organize this year's senior prank, which involved the stacking of chairs in the cafeteria into a pyramid formation and the trashing of Fitzpatrick's and Assistant Principal John Houlihan's offices, and which saw teachers forced to park "basically in Barnstead" for a day.
He and Fraser were also amazed by the spirit of volunteerism among this year's graduates, he said, pointing to the Alton Centennial Rotary Club's 2009 Home, Garden, and Recreation Show, where a number of students volunteered to help prepare food for the crowds.
"I hope that possibly, [the graduates] learned something from us," Gilpatrick said in closing.
Fraser encouraged the graduates to treat every encounter with another person as a learning opportunity, and to "give people a chance."
"Open your minds to change … things don't always turn out the way you planned," she said, urging the graduates to play their strengths in public and work on their weaknesses in private.
"Never allow what you cannot do to interfere with what you can do," she added.
Presenting this year's class gift — a pair of new picnic tables near the school's outdoor track that she and her classmates hoped would provide enjoyment for future generations of Prospect Mountain students — senior class president Cindell Corbeil said she and her fellow graduates had "been through a lot of interesting times."
From a surprise soaking courtesy of the high school's sprinkler system on their first day as freshmen to their domination of Winter Carnival for the past two years, she said, the memories this year's graduating class has forged were made possible through the individual talents of its members.
"Enjoy life … make an adventure of it," she said, adding that she felt certain her classmates would go on to do great things.
"And remember … wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine," she added.
"Cue balls and a cup of coffee"
Introducing himself with a burst of rock music and a shower of silly string, health teacher Mark Anthony — selected by the graduates to deliver this year's keynote address — used his speech as an opportunity to get back at the students whose cell phones had interrupted his classes over the past four years.
"It takes a couple of seconds to turn it off," he said in a booming voice, periodically interrupting his speech with mock ringtones that blared out over the loudspeakers.
As much of a nuisance as they were for him, however, Anthony acknowledged that cell phones had done their part to train this year's graduates in "life's important skills," such as the ability to multi-task while texting or bend the truth when caught using a cell phone in class by claiming not to have been on it.
Calling the graduates "a special group in a special place," Anthony warned them to bear in mind, as they make their way out into the world, that life is not a box of chocolates, as claimed in the film "Forrest Gump."
"It's more like a jar of jalapeños, because what you do today may burn your butt tomorrow," he said, prompting a roar of laughter from the audience.
Commenting that the local community had made a "huge impact" on the character of this year's graduates, Anthony described them as "without a doubt the finest and most caring group of students to grace the halls of this school."
Of all the characteristics that have come to define the Class of 2010, he added, its compassion, positive energy, and willingness to include everyone in the group will be missed the most.
"This Class of 2010 is full of character and integrity," he said, crediting the graduates' parents with instilling those values in their children.
"You have raised your sons and daughters well," he said, turning to the graduates and urging them to give their parents an "HAK" (text messaging lingo for "hug and kiss") at the earliest opportunity.
If he could leave the Class of 2010 with one piece of advice, Anthony said, it would be "cue balls and a cup of coffee."
Walking over to a jug filled with cue balls that sat in front of the graduates, Anthony began to relate the story of a college professor who arrived in class one day with an empty jug.
Dropping a container of cue balls into the jug, the professor asked his students whether it appeared full to them.
When they replied that it did, Anthony said (raising a bucket of sand and dumping it into his jug), the professor emptied a bucket of sand into the jug, and asked them again whether it appeared full to them.
When they replied that it looked full, Anthony explained (pouring a cup of coffee into his jug), the professor proceeded to dump a cup of coffee into the jug, and asked the class once again whether the jug looked full. Again, they said it did.
The professor, Anthony said, then explained that the cue balls were meant to represent the important things in life, such as faith, family, friends, and good health.
The sand was intended to represent "everything else," Anthony said, pointing out that if the sand had been put into the jug first, there would have been no room left for the cue balls.
The coffee, he added, was meant to serve as a reminder that there is always room in life for a cup of coffee with a friend.
"Set your priorities, because the rest is just sand," Anthony said, urging the graduates to pay attention to the things that really matter.
The following students received diplomas or certificates of attendance during last week's Commencement ceremony:
John Hammond III
Brian P. Jones
Ryan C. Kelley
Wan Qing Sun
Leonard L.A. Thomas
Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or email@example.com
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