Kennett High School’s 126th commencement
● By Steven Hoffman
When graduation speaker Gemma Erickson stepped to the microphone at a few minutes after 6 p.m. and offered a welcome to Kennett High School’s Class of 2017 and their families and friends, she gave some words of advice to her fellow classmates: “Relax, smile, and take a deep breath of gratitude.”
Then she added, “Yes, we are actually seated for our high school graduation ceremony!”
For the 301 members of the graduating class, Kennett High School’s 126th commencement ceremony on June 9 marked a significant milestone in their young lives.
As class president Luke Beeson explained in his welcome address, “This is the day we have all been working toward for most of our lives. Today is the culmination of the work we put into learning how to spell in kindergarten, practicing times tables in fourth grade, and ‘reading’ all of those books over our summer breaks. You should feel extremely proud of all that you have accomplished.”
According to Erickson, the blue and white caps and gowns that the members of the Class of 2017 were wearing signified their journey to this moment.
“We worked towards this achievement from the first day our parents sent us off to kindergarten wearing our velcro sneakers and carrying our tiny backpacks,” she said. “Let us take a moment now to thank everyone who has brought us to this point. Parents, teachers, mentors, administrators, and coaches, we are eternally grateful for everything you have helped us to achieve. Through your guidance, we have grown into successful individuals who are ready to take on the world. And, today, we step into a new and exciting chapter in our lives.”
Beeson previewed the speeches by Melissa Houck, Aliyah Asel, Zach Hrenko, and Ben Skross focused on the theme, “Now is the Time.”
In her speech “Now is the Time… to Remember Our Past,” Houck reflected on how she and her classmates reached graduation day.
“As these last four years at Kennett High School are coming down to their final minutes, we should remember how much we have changed and accomplished in these years,” she said, explaining that when they entered the high school as freshman they were still a little childish, maybe, but they were able to adapt to the many changes. She said that they started finding out how they were going to fit in the next four years. As sophomores, they still didn’t think too much about the future, but they were starting to think about possible careers they might want to pursue.
By the junior year, “Our aspirations, goals, and achievements weren’t seen as childish anymore,” Houck said. “We had an idea where we wanted our place in the world to be.”
Then came the senior year. “All eyes were on us,” Houck said. “We were finally ready to be the captains of your sports teams, the leads in your musicals, and the people who can make a difference in the world.”
In his speech, Skross encouraged his classmates to develop a vision for how they can accomplish their dreams.
“Our dream to live this happy and successful life is bigger than our careers,” Skross said. “Our pursuit of happiness doesn't have to wait until we are twenty or thirty or fifty. Happiness can be achieved right now. The whole picture doesn’t have to be clear. We don’t have to know every aspect of our dream. The road to achieving our dreams is hard work, but when it gets tough, think, ‘If not you, who? If not now, when?’ All it takes is one small step, then another, then another. We don’t leap a mile. But, if we keep going, we’ll get there.”
Asel talked about how the students have learned how to speak up, and how they have found their voices in some way or another during their academic careers at Kennett High School.
“In the past four years, we’ve all learned and experienced so much, both in and out of the classroom,” Asel said. “We’ve learned how to analyze literature and balance chemical equations. We’ve learned new languages and how to build robots. We’ve started clubs, we’ve travelled to foreign countries, and we’ve learned new instruments. We’ve learned how to be our best selves. We’ve learned how to be leaders. We step into the next phases of our lives wearing shoes that seem too big to fill. The possibilities are endless, and many of us have no clue where we want to end up. But, we’ll get there. And, while our paths may diverge, whether we choose to be artists or lawyers, entrepreneurs, or anything else, we will all remember what we’ve learned here: how to be leaders; how to be kind; how to make a difference.
Zach Hrenko said that everything that the members of the Class of 2017 have learned up to this point builds to one theme: “The world is amazing. Humans are amazing.”
“Placed in such an immense, puzzling world, we are always figuring it out,” Hrenko said. “Ancient Greeks determined the circumference of the earth without seeing more than a few square miles of it. They used the same formula for a circle that we learned in class. We have studied how great minds of the past stared into this complex universe and formulated incredible theories like evolution and gravity. They all started with pencil and paper. They had eyes and brains, and they used them just as we do.”
Hrenko credited human beings with bringing charm to the universe through art, and music, through food and fashion, and through language and culture. He concluded his remarks by quoting from an ancient Indian text when he said, “The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not,” he said. Then Hrenko added, “Kennett High School Class of 2017, no matter where you are headed, do something worth learning about. You have seen the bigger picture. Now is the time to pick up a brush and add some more to it.”
Superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti, high school principal Dr. Jeremy Hritz, and Dr. Tomorrow Jenkins, an assistant principal at the high school, all talked about the achievements of the Class of 2017.
Jenkins had the honor of announcing that the senior class had earned a combined $9.3 million in scholarships and awards.
Hritz called the Class of 2017 a unique group of students who were scholars, athletes, singers, artists, innovators and philanthropists.
Tomasetti, who had the honor of presenting the Class of 2017 to receive the diplomas, congratulated the students on their hard work that resulted in Kennett High School being ranked among the best high schools.
“Seniors,” Tomasetti said, “this is your night. Cherish it. You have a very exciting mission in front of you.”
School board vice president Joseph Meola led the awarding of diplomas, with assistant principal Jeffrey Thomas announcing the roll call of graduates—the highlight of the evening and the moment that students and parents had been looking forward to for a long time.
During the announcement of awards, Colleen Allen, the chairperson of the guidance department, recognized dozens of students who earned local scholarships and awards. Jacqueline Tucker was awarded the high school’s highest honor, the W. Earle Rupert Memorial Cup, which is given to the senior member of the National Honor Society who, in the judgement of the faculty, is deserving of the special honor by virtue of scholarship, school spirit, and service to Kennett High School.
If there was recurring theme throughout the evening’s speeches by both the students and the school district officials, it was that the students were well-prepared for their future as a result of the education they received at Kennett schools.
Erickson quoted Nelson Mandela when she said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. So, let us use our education to make a difference not only in our own lives but also in the lives of others. Let us apply our intelligence to champion a cause about which we are passionate. Let us transform the world with our knowledge, our hearts, and our whole beings.”