By Kevin Kelley
Recognition of other persons’ gifts and the willingness to take chances were among the themes spoken of during the Westlake High School class of 2014’s commencement ceremony, held June 7 at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center. Principal Tim Freeman thanked the class of 2014 for the leadership they showed in dealing with the change of moving into the new high school building, which opened at the start of their senior year.
“Believe me, it really made a difference with the students that will follow you.”
The class of 2014’s collective identity was best exemplified in September, when students selected Holly Thomas and Jacob Cox, both special needs students, as homecoming king and queen. After reading a message of thanks from Cox and his parents, Freeman said the episode represented something special about the class of 2014.
“You often place the needs of others ahead of your own,” Freeman told graduates. “This is a unique trait these days.”
Superintendent Dan Keenan noted that, like the graduating seniors, he too was moving on to new things.
Keenan, who will leave at the end of July, said the graduates represented the school district and community with poise, character and class. He added that members of the class of 2014 were especially appreciative of each others strengths.
“Continue to keep your eyes open on the strengths of people, and not their deficits, and you’ll experience the joy of being ‘all in,’” Keenan told the graduates.
Keenan quoted from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech, in which the former president argued the one who makes bold attempts, even if they end in failure, is greater than the critic.
“I can’t wait to see the arenas that you choose to enter as you move forward,” Keenan said.
Senior class President Allyson Pesta said people often settle for being average due to the fear of failure. But it’s from both opportunities and failure that people grow, she said.
“Sometimes our desires for perfection create this fear of failure, halting us from achieving greatness,” she said. “It’s time to put away our desires for perfection and simply live.”
Pesta told her classmates to engage with people, not their Twitter feeds, and give others a true picture of who they are, not what their Instagram accounts portray.
Pesta also encouraged graduates to keep the focus on others, not oneself. “Imagine the difference you can make if you let your actions glorify others rather than yourself,” she said.
Student speaker Eleni Packis compared the class of 2014’s journey to the changes in television during their lives. They watched simplistic children’s shows such as “Barney” as youngsters. But by their high school years, they were watching high-definition programming.
“Think of it this way: After all this time of having standard definition cable television minds, our lives are finally switching over to Netflix,” Packis said. “Suddenly, opportunities we’ve only dreamed about are available, like all the seasons of ‘Breaking Bad’ at the touch of a button.”
She concluded her talk by reminding her classmates if they don’t like the direction their life is heading, they can always change the channel.
Evie Kennedy, another student speaker, recounted the numerous times she had been called upon to stand up before others, either in the classroom or on a stage. The simple action of standing up is not a skill emphasized in today’s schools, she said. But the act of standing up has played a central role in her life, Kennedy said. She challenged each of her classmates to, “at some point in your life, create a situation worth standing for.”
Literature teacher Amy Klenz, the high school’s exemplary educator of the year, told students that life is like a story in that it consists of a series of choices. This generation, she said, has amazing technological tools to tell their stories, like Facebook and Twitter.
“So as you construct this story of yours,” Klenz told graduates, “I would remind you that all stories come down to two things: good versus evil, and humanity’s perpetual mistake – pride.” She told graduates that, when facing a dilemma, they should choose the better answer, not the one that can merely be defended.
“As you go out into this terrifying, incredible world that provides us as much beauty as it does suffering,” Klenz said, “remember that even though you are but one part of it, you can make choices to open others up to its beauty and to be a comfort to those who suffer.”