Although the weather was not auspicious during the ceremony, the futures of the New Oxford High School seniors who graduated on Thursday evening certainly are.
Before the graduates accepted their diplomas, staff, faculty and fellow students reminded them that change is inevitable. The graduating seniors were encouraged to welcome change while never forgetting who they truly are.
New Oxford principal Christopher T. Bowman said he had known the students since they were in seventh grade. He applauded their hard work when faced with unique challenges.
“To my first four-year graduating class as a high school principal: Congrats. You made it,” Bowman said. “You made it through a year that the world of education will never forget. You helped to set the tone for your peers and worked to reestablish so many of our important events and traditions at New Oxford High School. You are to be commended for your spirit and resolve. Your class will certainly be remembered for having battled through a pandemic only to return full-time to make the most of your senior year.”
Bowman encouraged the students to treasure the people in their lives and to never stop learning. He told them to learn from their mistakes.
“My hopes for you are this: that you will continue to find ways to challenge yourself and make your mark in your community, which can be done in big and small ways,” Bowman said. “The more comfortable you get being uncomfortable, the more readily you will grow. Humble yourself in the face of conflict and adversity and embrace failure as an opportunity to learn. Life is a series of choices and consequences. Strive for choices that will result in positive outcomes.”
Two students, Kiefer Bell and Braden Tyson, also delivered speeches to the graduates.
Bell told fellow students to boldly take advantage of the chances they receive.
“Say, ‘Yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way, especially if it is out of your comfort zone,” Bell said. “I have found that what has allowed me to grow the most were the things I expected the least. Only you can limit yourself, and only you can decide how much of life you are going to conquer, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I believe we can conquer it all.”
Bell said to keep in mind that the end of their high school years was the beginning of their next stage in life.
“So, take risks, believe in yourself, be kind, and make your younger self proud and become who you truly want to be when you grow up,” Bell said.
Tyson surveyed 100 New Oxford seniors, including 50 females and 50 males, before their graduation to see what single word they would use to sum up their high school experience.
Tyson said answers included: “fun, cool, happy, sad” and “homework.” Others used the words, “impactful, mission, hindsight, fleeting, stressful, venturesome, (and) value.”
One student, Alex Setliff, provided a response Tyson found striking: “resilience.”
“Every generation has obstacles to overcome,” Tyson said. “We could look up commencement speeches from the last fifty years at New Oxford and see messages about difficulties. New or not, these challenges require us to be resilient.”
Tyson said failure can be part of the journey – and part of the eventual solution to find success.
“We need to start accepting the fact that there are some giants that we will not defeat in the first round,” Tyson said. “You need endurance and stamina to reach some goals. There are moments of glory in life, but they do not come easily or often.”
Tyson encouraged students to persevere when they struggle.
“… I like to think that Alex wrote ‘resilience’ not just because there were tough moments in high school or tough moments ahead of us,” Tyson said. “He wrote ‘resilience’ because he recognized that each of us demonstrates resilience. Now we take it with us to whatever is next.”
Superintendent Sharon Perry encouraged the graduates to remember their friends, family and community, including supporters from within the schools.
“We hope you have enjoyed your time with us as much as we have enjoyed our time with you,” Perry said. “We are proud of you. We can’t wait for you to come home and share your successes and achievements with us.”
Two teachers, Jamie Weaver and Lauren LaBarca, also addressed the students. Perry introduced each of them, saying that students came up with the paragraphs about each.
Weaver said she met the graduates when they were sophomores and urged them to stay true to themselves and accept change.
“People have been asking me all of my life how I have so much energy, so much enthusiasm and why I smile so much,” Weaver said. “I’ve never had an answer to those questions; it’s just who I am… More often than not, people misread these traits as naiveté, so being me never felt good enough because kindness and vulnerability felt like weakness. But kindness is not weakness. Vulnerability is not weakness.”
Weaver reminded the students to try to do good, to “be kind” and to “take risks.”
LaBarca said she met the students when they were in seventh grade.
“I’m here today to tell you that your life will forever be a series of paradoxes,” LaBarca said. “So, with this in mind, I thought I’d leave you with the best advice in paradox form that I could come up with. Here it is: Never apologize for being who you are, but, apologize often.”
LaBarca also encouraged the students to embrace their true selves.
“Be unapologetically you,” LaBarca said.
But while the graduates should not apologize for who they are, they should own up to mistakes, LaBarca said.
“In my estimation, though, one of the greatest failures of our society is that we don’t accept responsibility for our actions,” LaBarca said. “But if we want to take responsibility for the good that happens, then we also need to be able to take responsibility for the bad. Saying ‘I was wrong,’ or saying ‘I’m sorry:’ These are the most difficult things in the world, yet maybe the most important.”
After the speeches were completed, the class officers gave a monetary gift to Perry for the school and class of 2026.
Class President Edna Ibisevic left the students with a supporting message.
“As we move on from here, the road ahead will not be easy,” Ibisevic said. “We are going to feel alone at times like we cannot possibly go on. However, nothing worthwhile is easy. I think we have all experienced this to some extent in our latest years. You will keep pushing forward because you are worth it.”
Class vice president Riley Strausbaugh, secretary Haidee Lupian, treasurer Kiefer Bell, and historian Makenzie Yingling joined Ibisevic to give the gift to Perry.
They also led the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the ceremony.
Bell performed the National Anthem. The senior choir sang the Alma Mater.
Featured image: Graduating senior Kiefer Bell addresses the audience.
Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.
You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.