Staring out at their fellow graduates donned in their red or white caps and gowns, five members of the Wapakoneta High School class of 2013 reflected on the people who influenced their lives in the past and cited quotations from presidents, movies and other leaders as inspiration for their future endeavors.
The five honors speakers at Saturday’s commencement included Nicole Brown, Ross Kohler, Brandon Miller, Makenna Salsbury and Nate Hager.
Brown examined the difference between the phrase “hakuna matata,” or no worries, with the call to be courageous. She transitioned the story of Simba, the young lion cub who returned to Pride Rock to avenge his father, into the Marianne Williamson quote in the movie, “Coach Carter” about a person’s fear is not about being inadequate but being powerful beyond measure.
“Sometimes we are even scared of ourselves,” Brown said. “No matter if we are aware of our fear or not, it is the one virtue that will play a major role in every action we make in every part of our lives. Do not let fear paralyze you and weigh you down. Wash away that doubt. LIft up that heavy burden from your shoulders and find that relief through courage.”
She challenged her classmates to have the courage to follow their dreams and “If your heart tells you to go for it, follow your instincts and be different. Be a leader, or in Simba’s case, be a king. Speak up. Yes, there will be risks. There will be challenges, but it will pay off.”
Brown, who played basketball all four years for the Redskins, quoted Chicago Bulls and NBA great Michael Jordan about overcoming obstacles by having the perseverance “to figure out a way to climb it, go through it or work around it.”
Turning her attention to the Holy Bible, she noted the phrase “Do not be afraid,” or “Be not afraid” appears more than 1,000 times in the holy book. She explained she believes God is trying to tell people something about facing the fear of criticism, rejection, change, suffering.
“Life requires courage every day no matter if it is taking that game winning shot or telling a person how you really feel,” Brown said. “People are not born with courage, but gain it over time. So start with the little things in life. The quality of your life will depend on how much courage you put forward.
“When we receive our diplomas today, do not be satisfied,” she said. “Do not settle. Class of 2013, let us be the class that everyone looks up to. Let us have the courage to take action for what we believe in.”
Kohler approached the future in a much different manner and used an anecdote of the late John Lennon to make his point.
When a teacher asked a class about what they wanted to be when they grew up, Lennon simply answered he wanted to be happy. When the teacher said Lennon failed to understand the question, he responded, “You don’t understand life.”
“So what do you all want to be when you grow up?” Kohler told his classmates. “Among the ranks of our class we have innumerable students going into engineering, a bushel of farmers out there, a few stray hairs going into hairdressing, a portfolio’s worth going into art and many more that I don’t even know of. These careers are excellent choices for each of us in particular, and I hope each of you do extremely well in your chosen field.”
He supported his points with quotations from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy as well as Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi regarding happiness and the courage to make one’s own choices.
“Whether you are going to college, vocational school or straight into the work force, I just want to ask you to look into yourselves and decide your aspirations,” Kohler said. “We have freedom and we can all take advantage of it. With the proper determination, we can achieve anything.
“Wapak has footprints on the moon,” he said referring to the late Neil Armstrong being the first man to walk on the moon. “What can anyone from this town not achieve? Find your goal and seize it, because we have one life. I plan to full advantage of mine. So I’ll leave you with a question — what do you want to be when you grow up?”
After thanking the school board, administration, teachers and staff at Wapakoneta City Schools and the former St. Joseph Catholic School, Miller honored his father for serving as a role model and teaching him how to be a leader, a man and a father. He praised his mother for raising him with strong Christian values and his brother, Lo-
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gan, for teaching him “to be accountable for every one of my actions because I have always strived to set the best example for you that I possibly can and I hope that in your mind I have done just that.”
He shifted his focus to those teams he has been a member of during his lifetime. Miller, who started on the varsity football, basketball and baseball teams and who participated in academic and musical teams, said the “most successful” and “most enjoyable” team was the team of the class of 2013.
Citing nationally syndicated financial analyst Dave Ramsey, Miller compared a successful team to those traveling on a hypothetical bus with the same goal of being successful but with many different aspirations.
“The positive attitudes and caring personas displayed by our team of 2013 are undoubtedly noticeable while walking through the classrooms and halls,” Miller said. “All of these different people sitting in their perfect spot on our bus of roles, working together and accepting each other’s talents and abilities created an atmosphere where anything was possible and where dreams could begin to be founded.
“After graduation, we will step out of this bus, but look forward to the day when you will step into the next bus of future teammates and realize that you are sitting in your perfect seat,” he said. “Seats full of doctors and lawyers and business people and engineers, mothers and fathers and leaders in all walks of life. O happy day when that time comes.”
Salsbury, whose sister, Alexis, addressed her classmates three years ago as one of the five valedictorians, thanked her sister and her parents for helping her to overcome each obstacle in her life.
“Life is an amazing journey,” Salsbury said. “It is filled with remarkable adventures but every worthwhile adventure includes obstacles. Sometimes the obstacles are like mountains — tall, daunting and seemingly indestructible. They test our courage, our strength and our determination.”
For her fellow seniors, she outlined the obstacles they have tackled including tying their shoes and opening their milk cartons in kindergarten, but they mastered these mountains in their own way and “not one of us here today, in the graduating class of 2013, sat down at the foot of the mountain, gave up and admitted defeat.”
She left them with another challenge.
“We are the next generation of leaders and in order to make our mark we must climb over, bust through or walk around the mountains that life presents us,” Salsbury said. “So class of 2013, let me be the first to encourage you as graduates to always keep climbing.”
Hager, who served as president of the Wapakoneta FFA and traveled to the Washington Leadership Conference this past summer, used a simulation dinner there where people were divided into four social classes — upper, middle, lower and disaster — and their meal was served accordingly with disaster group getting nothing and the lower class only beans and no utensils. The experience made his stomach churn.
“I told myself then and there that I would change my life to be more aware of those around me,” Hager said. “It is easy to get caught up in the small world of me instead of living in the big world of we.”
A quote from President Teddy Roosevelt helped him with the answer — “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Hager then spoke on the attributes of the greatest leader, Jesus Christ, who was a good servant as well as a great leader. He said to use Christ and parents as examples of sharing the work and leading the way.
“All in all, selflessness and sacrifice are necessary for service to those who are in need,” Hager told the class of 2013. “As we continue with our lives, wherever we may go, remember to serve. Regardless of your circumstances, this action is a crucial ingredient for a fulfilling life. Lead those who can learn from your actions and counseling — and always do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are.”
Board President Eric McKinniss explained the class could find the definition of success in Webster’s Dictionary, or for the computer savvy on Google or another search engine, but he said a real success is a person who has a dream and takes those small steps to achieve that goal.
Being from Wapakoneta, residents here know of Neil Armstrong and his successes, but they should not forget all the engineers, scientists and others who made the Apollo 11 mission a success.
While graduating from Wapakoneta High School is a success, each student needs to make all other days good days and to take the necessary small steps to make giant leaps.
Superintendent Keith Horner thanked the parents, teachers, staff and military personnel in the audience. He then urged the students, soon to be the district’s newest alumni, to do the same.
Pam Downing, a 1982 Wapakoneta High School graduate and now working at the Apollo Career Center, recognized the students who attended classes at the joint vocational school.