By Kevin Kelley
The commencement ceremony for the last class to graduate from the soon-to-be-demolished Westlake High School building seemed, well, a bit anticlimactic.
Perhaps it was the morning start time of the ceremony, which went from 10 to 11:45 Saturday morning at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University. Or perhaps it had to do with the collective personality of the class of 2013, which Principal Tim Freeman described to West Life as high-achieving but reserved.
Among the student speakers, there was no sadness expressed over the fact that their academic and social home for the last four years will be gone forever. (The only mention of the building’s fate came from Freeman, who thanked graduates for putting up with the noise and other inconveniences that came with the construction of the new high school, being built on the same property.) Nor was there whining that fate robbed them of the shiny, new high school classes coming after them would enjoy. Instead, the students, and their farewell ceremony, displayed a down-to-business approach.
Ashwen Ravichandran, the first student speaker, encouraged his fellow graduates to concentrate on what unites people instead of what divides them. As citizens of the world, graduates, he said, will be called upon to demonstrate civility, “exhibiting values such as integrity, courtesy, kindness, charity and reverence – values that will make the world a better place.”
Ravichandran said graduates have learned civility and associated values not only from their coursework but also from their interactions with others, including parents, teachers and peers.
“I challenge us to demonstrate these values daily, whether it be as a citizen of our nation, of our community or of our family,” he said. “I challenge us to practice these values and be a light in the darkness for others to follow.”
Sarah Schwartzer compared the lives of herself and fellow graduates to jigsaw puzzles.
“High school was an enormous piece of our puzzle, where we learned the things we need most for life – how to get along with no sleep, how to deal with insane deadlines – and all the while listen to the incredible amount of words and advice coming from parents, teachers, basically every adult we meet asking us about our futures. But it is through these trying times that we have learned our strengths and our weaknesses. And we know that, if needed, we can deal with it all and still function.”
Puzzles don’t come with directions, she noted. “It’s up to you to decide how the pieces will fit together. If you have some questions about the future and you don’t have all the answers, there aren’t any worries. Your puzzle isn’t as easy as a 50- or 100-piece. Maybe you’re a complicated and delicate thousand-piece puzzle.”
Even if a piece goes missing, the picture is still visible and the puzzle is still whole, she said.
Cara Murthy, the final student speaker, recounted all the reasons graduates have to be grateful to parents, other family members and teachers.
“Throughout our lives, we will find patterns of those who raised us within ourselves,” she said.
Evelyn Newman, the Westlake High School math teacher chosen as the exemplary educator of the year, told students that successfully completing high school is a challenging accomplishment under the best of circumstances. But some students overcame private battles that no teenager should have to face, she said.
“Whether these involved illness, depression, dependency, loss of a family member, lack of parental support, family upheaval, moving here from another state or another country – if you are here today you have already overcome more challenges than most of your classmates will have to face for years to come,” she said.
She urged graduates to have patience.
“You may have to wait years to achieve a goal that you have set for yourself,” she said.
In his remarks, Freeman recalled that a few class of 2013 members, who as eighth-graders registering for high school classes, showed anxiety about their academic futures.
One student, the principal recounted, told him he would be able to relax and enjoy high school as soon as he had all of his academic schedule issues solved. He also recounted other conversations he heard in which seniors said as soon as they graduated, or as soon as they chose a college major, they could be happier.
Freeman told students not to wait for “as soon as,” that is, until a particular problem is solved, or until they are married and settled down, to be happy.
Goals are great, Freeman said, but achievement of goals should not be the basis of one’s self-worth or happiness.
“Don’t defer happiness and satisfaction to some mythical point in the future,” the principal said. “Be happy where you are.”