Not Just Another Graduation Speech

In General

The  Simon Youth Foundation Academy team in Wichita, KS celebrating Graduation Day and the Power of Orange.

On May 21, 2014, Simon Youth Academies at Towne East Square, Towne West Square and Dunbar Adult Learning Center in Wichita, Kansas celebrated the graduation of 47 students – each one a remarkable individual exemplifying personal triumph over challenges.  These students are far from ordinary, and so was the graduation address offered by Renee Erickson, Principal, Learning Centers of Wichita:

I’ve titled tonight’s remarks, “Not Just Another Graduation Speech.”  Why? Because you are not just another group of graduates.

Most graduation speeches are ladled with “The World is Your Oyster” and “You Can Be Anything You Want” messages as well as inspirational quotes and poems from world intellects. While appropriate, it just didn’t feel right when I tried to craft a message along those lines. I couldn’t put my finger on why until about 3:00 a.m. in the morning a few days ago. 

The majority of this year’s traditional high school graduates have been full-time students since 2001. They haven’t had to give too much thought to what was happening from year-to-year  –  5th grade became 6th grade became 7th grade,  and so on.  Most took for granted that they would continue climbing the school years ladder until 12th grade, which would conclude with a graduation ceremony, much like this one tonight. At their post-graduation celebrations, they would, no doubt, thank their teachers for inspiring and motivating them – rightfully so! Still, though, after the excitement subsides and the graduation money is spent, for the first time in their lives, they are faced with the daunting question: Now what?

You encountered this life question a long time ago. For this year’s Learning Centers graduates, there are no two stories alike, nothing has been taken for granted, and a great deal of thought has been given to what was happening not only from year-to-year, but day-to-day.  The ladders you’ve had to climb may be taller and shakier, yet, like your traditional school counterparts, you have been generous in giving thanks to your teachers and staff at the Learning Centers. And there is the answer to why I couldn’t deliver just another graduation speech.

I’m confident that I speak for the entire staff when I say YOU inspire US! We should be thanking you. So I asked the staff to write thank you notes to our graduates and here is what they said:

Thank You for …
• Trusting me with your thoughts in writing.
• Being thankful to me.
• Showing me what it’s like to persevere.
• Tackling your fears of math.
• For not giving up.
• Thank you for making school a priority.
• For helping others out
• Coming in with no sleep after being up all night working 3rd shift (you know who you are)
• For coming on days you didn’t feel like it!
• For being a great person!
• For sticking with it!
• For attending regularly!
• For supporting your family while going to school!
• For being a great parent!
• For attending workshops!
• For always being an “up” person!
• For sharing your story!
• For allowing us to share this joyous occasion with you.
• For being willing to help other students with Apex.
• Completing your study guides.
• Bringing delicious food.
• Being attentive and respectful during speakers.
• Translating when Spanish speakers call.
• Sharing pictures of your children. 
• Showing me how to work my iPhone.
• Helping decorate the classroom for Christmas, spring, and Valentines.
• Thank you for appreciating living life to the fullest.
• Words of wisdom like “I like my days to be as full as possible.”
• Thank you for being good models of leadership and determination.
• For modeling sacrifice.
• For commitment and hard work.
• Thank you for reminding me why I went into education.
• For being living examples of the virtues I aspire to possess.
• For making how I earn my living a joy rather than a job.
• For making me a better person.

As you can see, you are NOT just another group of graduates!

As you leave here this evening, I know you will continue to be the source of inspiration and gratitude for those fortunate enough to know you.

Thank you again and Congratulations class of 2014

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