The Richard Korpi Ice Rink buzzed with excited voices as the crowds rolled in, hundreds of people piling into the bleachers and along the glass-enclosed balcony overlooking the playing area.
No day during this whole school year seemed as special as this one or drew so much excitement, even though this year saw championships in bowling, volleyball, football and tennis.
Cameras flashed. Balloons bobbed above people’s head. Family members waved down at the familiar faces as students marched in.
This was not a championship game being played under the heated glow of bright halogen lamps, but something even bigger, a moment in which all the 533 students flowed into folding chairs before the large stage, waiting to embrace what they have worked for the last four years to reach. Obvious with the cheers of family and friends, who have finally come to witness, the graduating class, all dressed in crimson robes and mortar board hats, turned the floor of the ice rink into one vast sea of red. They had come to collect their diplomas, the last play in a four-year test of endurance.
Some of the graduates waved hesitantly at family members, looking just a little shy, as if they weren’t sure that this was allowed, despite this being perhaps the most important day of their young lives so far. Some students sang softy the school’s alma mater written by Helen Marjorie Walkefield, perhaps for the first time, realizing that it would resound in them for the rest of their lives as they carried the memory of this moment and of the past four years out into the wider world beyond.
Education is, and has been, key
“Education is the key that opens the door to opportunity,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia McGeehan, standing on the stage before the crowds. Every seat the large arena was filled, if not with graduates, then with their families. Her voice spilled out of the large speakers near the ceiling as if she was calling the play-by-play for a game that these students would have to play in for the rest of their lives. “What you have learned at BHS must give you the power to meet the challenge of the future as citizens of the world – and it is a big world. Along with academics, you have learned who you are and how to embrace diversity.”
McGeehan said the Class of 2012 succeeded in sports, academics and arts. This class produced the first volleyball championship in the school’s history, as well as championships in bowling, tennis and football. Arts programs have succeeded on local, county and state levels. Graduates qualified for almost $18 million in scholarships.
A moment after Dr. McGeehan’s speech, Valedictorian David Elias strode up to the podium, not a tall boy but one who raised the cheers of his classmates as he bantered with them, telling them to relax now that they have come to the point of graduation. Seconds later, he called them to arms again, saying the rest is over and it was time to get on with the rest of their lives.
Elias, pausing to peer out at his peers, seemed to strain against the bright lights that kept him from seeing each of the faces below him, part of that mass of red that he would remember for the rest of his life. He and the other leaders of the class were given the distinction of sitting up on the stage to look out at the vast audience. In some ways, Elias and the other top scholars of this class had the more awesome vision, seeing the whole of the class and the families them, hearing their laughter and their sighs rise between each bout of applause. Elias looked up often from his prepared speech, but never waivered.
“Today, we step into the real world, complete with all its problems and opportunities,” he said. “No one will guarantee that you will accomplish your goals but yourself. The real world demands dedication and sacrifice. How you approach your choices and decisions will affect the future. Not only do we have the opportunity to develop new talents and grow as individuals not only for ourselves, but to serve the world around us.”
“Today, we step into the real world, complete with all its problems and opportunities.” -- David Elias
With a glint in his eye and a glance to his right at Principal Richard Baccarella, Elias went on.
“Perhaps not everyone will be successful in the conventional sense of success,” he said. “Not everyone here will be a world-renowned athlete, a Nobel Prize winner, or one of the elite one percent of wealth. Hopefully you won’t become president of the United States or even vice president. Society has painted its own mainstream image of success, which usually involves fame, fortune or power. The real test is at hand, what your version of success is. It is your job to pursue your passion and your strength. Your success lies in your hands.”
As Elias stepped back from the podium, families and fellow graduates roared, their voices filling the arena with a passion that would echo in their lives long after the ceremonies ended, his words and the sound of their own voices part of a memory upon which they launched the rest of their lives.
This was also the gist of Mayor Mark Smith’s address when he came up to the podium a short time later.
“Graduates, this is your day. This is the beginning of the next phase of your lives,” Smith said. “You will look back at this day as a celebration of your accomplishments in establishing the foundation of your future. I congratulate you and I challenge you. I challenge you to scale the heights of success. The last four years were filled with toil, tears, and joy, but it was worth it and you all survived, and you leave here with fond memories, and you’ve built character.”
He called the graduates “the promise of tomorrow,” and said that before them lies a world they can shape for themselves.
“You must go into the world with compassion and unbound determination to leave your mark on the world,” Smith said. “You must accomplish what you need to and win the prize of your life. As you leave here, look inside yourselves at the indomitable spirit and set it free. Don’t compare yourselves to others; you are who you are, you are unique.”
And with the glowing rhetoric still echoing in the air, the graduates rose and one by one made their way to the stage to collect the goal they had worked over the last four years to achieve, a piece of paper that said they had learned enough to take the plunge, to move on to the next phase of their lives, to seek to leave their mark on the world and, perhaps, to set their spirits free.