Words of wisdom from graduates

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The overcast weather on June 25 threatened thunderstorms, resulting in the decision by school officials to hold the West Milford High School graduation indoors this year.

So families packed the hot gymnasium, fanning themselves with their graduation ceremony programs to try to keep cool. But they still had smiles on their faces; smiles filled with pride for their son’s and daughter’s accomplishments; for getting to a moment they have been looking forward to, and possibly also dreading, since they put their child on the bus for the first time as a kindergartner oh-so-many years ago. But it doesn’t really seem that long ago now. Here they are now ready to start the next chapter of their lives.

Three students gave speeches at graduation, imparting wisdom, advice and some jokes for their classmates: Valedictorian Sara Reich, Salutatorian Patrick Kerssen and voice of the senior class Jonathan Albar.

It takes effort
Salutatorian Patrick Kerssen gave an amusing and heartfelt speech about the importance of always working hard for your goals. As he periodically blew at his tassel as it kept coming forward to tickle his face, he said, “I’m obviously not giving this speech because I am the second best speaker in the class. I also do not believe that I am giving this speech because I am the second smartest person in the class. I believe that I am giving this speech because I put the second most effort into my school work over the past four years. If I am standing up here, anybody can be standing up here. It has nothing to do with how ‘smart’ you are.”

Kerssen joked about how he seemed to be number two in everything he did, but that it was satisfying because he knew he worked hard to get there.

“The fact that I am number two in the class also has some significance. And I don’t mean that in a condescending, pretentious way. I mean it in that I am number two in EVERYTHING. I am number two in the class, the second best trumpet player in the wind ensemble, the first kid to miss the cutoff for area band, the best bench bat on the freshman baseball team, the first non singles player on the tennis team, the list goes on. I tend to miss the top or the elite by a little itty bitty bit. But that’s okay, because I still landed pretty high up.”

Kerssen’s message was you don’t always have to be number one, but working hard to achieve something is personally very rewarding.

“So basically, what I hope I leave you with here, is that all it takes to find success and to be happy is effort. I don’t mean to say ‘you can do anything you set your mind to if you try.’ I always hated that idea because it’s not true. I could not be an Olympic gymnast if I wanted to be. I’m too tall and have about as much muscle as a washed up jellyfish. What I am trying to say is that if you make sacrifices and put your effort into something that you enjoy and are reasonably capable of, you will find success and happiness.”

Embrace life’s opportunities

Valedictorian Sara Reich spoke about the opportunities the graduates will face in the “real world,” changes that can be both exciting and frightening; things that will change their perspectives on life, on who they are, and on who they want to be.

“With the end of our high school careers, we must now enter a new routine that involves different people and different places. We must adapt to dorm rooms or commuting or full-time jobs. We must become a part of the so-called ‘real world’, or at least we must become a part of a different one: the world beyond high school, the world of adulthood. This will be our new reality, and this will make us change our perspectives. Though in many ways that may be scary to think about, it is also thrilling and satisfying and motivating and we are already well on our way there,” said Sara.

Her advice to her fellow classmates is to take advantage of as many opportunities as they can in life, “Even if we’re scared, and even if we’re not quite sure how we feel about it. Because every opportunity we see holds experiences that will teach us more about the world and about ourselves. Because we never know if we could find in it something that we love. Because it will continue to shape us into the people that we want to become.”

We are all a work in progress

As Jonathan Albar approached the podium next, his graduation cap decorated with birthday candles, it seemed the entire gymnasium sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Speaking as the “Voice of the Senior Class,” he opened his speech by saying, “Today is the day we've been waiting for, for the past four years. My 18th birthday. I'd like to thank all of you for coming out here to celebrate it with me. But in all seriousness there's nowhere I'd rather be spending my birthday other than graduating with some of my best friends. Congratulations on making it to the next step of your life.”

Albar continued his speech filled with amusing remembrances of high school days gone by, while simultaneously solving a Rubik’s cube in the process, to exemplify his point. Albar held up the Rubik’s cube a little more complete each time as he described each year of high school, signifying how each new level of high school brought with it different challenges and experiences, adding pieces and more completeness to each of their personal life puzzles.

As Albar held up the completed Rubik’s cube, he said, “And now we are here. The end. A completed puzzle that started out scrambled. All of our experiences have brought us to completion, finally done with a journey that never seemed to end. But that's not me and that's not who any of you are,” and he tossed the solved cube over his shoulder.

“I'm not going to stand here and lie to you telling you guys that you are complete. In fact, this is us,” and he held up another scrambled Rubik’s cube. “This journey is life and it's the longest thing you'll ever do. It's not over now. You are not complete now that high school is over; in fact your life has barely begun.”

His inspirational words for his classmates: “The only thing I can tell you is to live your life the way you want and don't let anyone tell you to do otherwise. If you want to be a teacher, then do it. If you want to be an engineer, then do it. If you want to open up a super awesome multi-story laser tag arena with go carts driving underneath you, then do it. If you want to be Batman, you can't because you'll never be that cool.”

At the end of the day, it did not rain, it did not storm. The graduates enjoyed their special day. The speeches were meaningful and entertaining. Graduates laughed, relishing in the moment. And now they will move on to their next challenges and successes in the journey of life.

So take heed young graduates, to the words of wisdom that were imparted to you on your Graduation Day: Be the best of whatever you are, find your passion, continue to aim high and work hard toward your goals, have a positive attitude, take advantage of opportunities, remember the past, and enjoy the progression throughout the entire journey to your complete Rubik’s cube.

- Patricia Keller

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