Overcoming adversity and choosing success: those maxims rang soundly through the commencement ceremony at MacLaren's William P. Lord High School on Thursday, June 26.
The ceremony recognized the advancement of 25 students: 12 received high school diplomas; nine earned GED certification; three college grads with two associate's degrees and one bachelor's; one student received a barbering license.
Many family members were in attendance, and the celebration had an especially poignant tone with respect to seeing once delinquent, underachieving youth at the correctional facility battle back those obstacles to attain a notable level of achievement.
"I know it wasn't easy, but we did it," said Alex V., the school's 2019 valedictorian. "We went through that bumpy road in life that we've been dying to get off of, and now we are at that smooth-sailing road that we've been patiently working hard for."
Alex described dark times where only a speck of light remained visible, and he lauded his fellow grads for focusing on that speck and following through.
"Without failure, you are never going to have success," Alex juxtaposed. "You have to lift that weight off your shoulders and believe that stress will bring the best out you."
Looking forward, the valedictorian emphasized that education is an ongoing process.
"We all have a whole other journey ahead of us. This is only the beginning," he said. "Your schooling may be over, but education never ends.
"Keep learning, never quit and stay motivated; because every single one of us has a bright future ahead."
Perhaps one of the best paragon's for that adage was the keynote speaker, 1988 and 1992 Olympic medalist Dave Johnson, who currently coaches track at South Salem High School.
Johnson began by commending Alex.
"Thank you for that, Alex," he said. "It's not easy to say things to your peers that come from the heart."
The Olympian opened up his own heart, commiserating with the incarcerated youth and revealing troubled times of his own youth.
The decathlete imparted how as a teen he was barely an average student and consistently involved in some sort of trouble while growing up in Missoula, Mont., such as breaking into houses. He suggested that perhaps the only thing that kept him from being incarcerated in those days was he could run away from the mischief faster than the pursuit could arrive.
"My early training was running in the streets," he said.
As a senior in high school he left Missoula and arrived in Corvallis where he attended Crescent Valley High School. He turned out for football and talked his way into playing wide receiver. The football coach was also the school's track coach, and at his behest, Dave turned out for track.
It turned out he had a vigorous aptitude for that sport.
He managed to graduate with a 2.0 grade-point average. But he had found a focus with athletics, and other crucial pieces of life worked into place around that.
"When I was your age, that's when it started for me," Dave said. "The first time I ever tried running (competitively) was my senior year in high school. I had to listen to adults (for guidance). I had to learn about success, and I also found a spiritual side.
"I'm one of those guys who could have ended up somewhere else – as you well know."
Dave encouraged the graduates to "choose success."
"Learning to choose success is a focus in itself," he said. "You guys are learning that; without it, you wouldn't be here today."
He reinforced the value of education that Alex had mentioned earlier.
"I encourage all of you to lean toward higher education," Dave said. "Seek it out. It's here for you, as you know."
William P. Lord Principal Jason Perrins fortified that sentiment, offering parables to illustrate the process. He stressed that life is hard, but the difficulties one encounters provide the strength necessary for survival.
He said a chick breaking out of an eggshell has to accomplish that itself; if done any other way, it will not survive. Ditto the case of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The strength gained by tending to early obstacles provides the means to face life's challenges.
"Success doesn't care about your feelings or emotions," Jason said, emphasizing that discipline is the most instrumental tool used in achievement. "Avoid the three C's: comparing, criticizing and complaining."
The principal encouraged the grads to win the hour, each hour.
With that, the next portion of that hour saw each of the 25 step up to the podium, get their respective certificates and walk onto a horizon that seemed unlikely just a few years earlier.
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