By Kevin Kelley
As the commencement ceremony for the Westlake High School class of 2012 began Saturday afternoon at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center, the thoughts of many students no doubt were on the handful of missing classmates battling for a state championship at Huntington Park in Columbus.
When James Bingham, the 2012 recipient of the Exemplary Educator title, came to the podium to address students, he acknowledged he didn’t know the game’s outcome. He asked those following the game on their smartphones to announce the score.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t make it,” Bingham said when given confirmation of the Demons’ 9 to 6 loss to Cincinnati Moeller.
Bingham then acknowledged state champion the school could claim – Colton Buffington, who won a state title in tennis – and even took credit for it. Bingham had been Buffington’s seventh-grade basketball coach, he explained.
“Apparently the experience was so appalling that he gave up organized basketball forever so he could concentrate on tennis,” Bingham joked.
The special-education teacher told students to take full advantage of life’s opportunities, but not be defined by occupation or material goods.
“Instead, be defined by your principles and the way you manifest those principles in your daily life,” he said.
“Challenges will come,” he went on. “But those who possess great character can and will persevere. And there’s a reason – because they’re grounded in substance.”
Rachel Dill, the first student speaker, recalled the heroes who made a difference in her life and the lives of her classmates.
As Dill recalled the 13 years she and most of her classmates shared through the school district, she said the teachers and staff of Lee Burneson Middle School were real heroes for the class of 2012.
“As seventh- and eighth-graders, we were hard to deal with,” Dill said of the middle school years. “From mediating fights to putting up with snotty attitudes, they sure took a beating from us. Luckily, with the help of our wise mentors, we were able to grow out of that stage.”
High school teachers and staff members also were heroes, she said. For example, she noted that Principal Tim Freeman cautioned students to stay safe in the 100 days leading up to graduation.
“We would not be standing here today without them, and for that we give them our unending gratitude,” Dill said of her class’s heroes.
Recalling his own experience of moving to Ohio from North Carolina, Thomas Carroll told graduates they will have to leave a part of their Westlake identities behind as they move on in life.
“The reality is that in college, in the real world, you will need to leave behind your accomplishments and begin the task of making a name for yourself anew,” he said.
Even so, the Demons of 2012 can retain their memories of their high school days. Carroll said he would even miss his student ID card, “that piece of plastic that is the only thing keeping me from being misidentified as a construction worker,” he said, referring to the work now under way on the new Westlake High School.
Carroll concluded by quoting a Latin saying that translates as, “They can because they think they can.”
“The thing is, anyone in this room can become great at anything they want to if they just put their minds to it, “ he said. The only thing separating beginners from experts, Carroll said, is 10,000 hours of practice.
“Ten thousand hours may seem a lot to devote to something, but hey, you’ve already been in school for almost twice that long,” he said.
Freeman, whose daughter Stephanie is a member of the graduating class, said the class of 2012 has been defined by achievement.
“This class has an uncanny and uncommon ability to set a goal and then effortlessly go about achieving it,” the principal said. “You say you will achieve it, and then, in a very matter-of-fact way, you put in the work and then you do it.”
Commencement is not the end of high school but rather the celebration of a new beginning, the principal said.
“You are prepared to achieve great goals,” Freeman told the graduates. “Now go out and do it.”