La Follette High School Class of 1983 Commencement Speech

By Christine M. Sleiziz

An Indian boy seeking a vision. A person being confirmed into his church. A ceremony to commemorate graduation. All three have something in common -- they mark the passage from childhood to adulthood. Our society considers us legal adults when we are 18, and social adults when we graduate. As legal adults, we'll be able to vote and sign our own contracts. As social adults, we'll no longer be treated as children. Graduation is a time to look to the future, yet the past often gives valuable insights. As the Sanskrit says, "Yesterday is only a vision, but today, well-lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope."

Today is a day where our past, present, and future all meet. Our parents and teachers deserve credit for seeing us this far; we are responsible for what happens next. No longer will Mr. Voss or any other principal be there to give some of us that extra push to get to our next class, or any teachers to tell us to get our homework in on time. Our parents, too, have worried about our studies, as well as wondering (at 2:00 in the morning), "Where could they be with that car?" They've made sacrifices for us, and they will continue to do so, as many help finance our future education.

When we first open that door as graduates of La Follette High School, we enter a whole new phase of our lives. So far, all school has meant to us has been going there everyday -- many of us never stop to think of its value. We've all had those mornings when the last thing you want to do is get up and go to school. Actually, in the past four years, we've learned a lot about relationships and how to get along with people, whether it's in athletics, clubs, contests, or with friends. As a school, some of that pride and determination is reflected in the various tournaments in which we've participated, such as the basketball championship, debate competitions, and math contests. Individually, many have excelled outside of school, volunteering their time to help others at hospitals or day-care centers.

Each class has taught us something -- overall, we've learned valuable communication skills, which enable us to form our own opinions and make our own decisions. Some may be career decisions, or decisions about kinds of lifestyles. Yet, if we are to be the leaders of the next generation, we must be able to apply the knowledge we've gained from school, or our time has been wasted. We've stood up for our beliefs in classes -- now we must do it as adults. Alright, some of us may never see a quadratic equation again, but we all will have to deal with the world of numbers in filling out tax forms, balancing a checkbook, opening a money market account, or for those of us who may be counting our calories.

Once we leave high school, most of us will want to be "successful" on our own. It's too easy to think of success in terms of wealth, neglecting the things important to us like family, friends, and ourselves. Ten years from now, some of us may be earning $100,000 year. Yet, there will be others making $12,000 who will be just as satisfied. What is really important is the feeling of happiness and personal fulfillment behind the work, not just the money. Responsibility will also become more important to us. Whenever we do leave home and first open the door to the new apartment, we become responsible for ourselves -- Mom won't be there to do the laundry and, like it or not, bills will have to be paid. Responsibility also means caring -- caring enough to help others out if they have problems. It means caring enough to donate blood to the Red Cross, to keep in touch with old friends, or to keep alive community traditions.

As the graduating class of 1983, we are ready to face the future. We're standing on a threshold -- we have the skills learned from school, yet they're mostly untested. It's up to us to experiment and set our own goals -- in college, on the job, or with our families. The sign of a truly great class is one who extends school leadership and motivation past graduation, applying it to new situations. Many of us right now are not interested in politics or government, yet in order to realize our ambitions, we must take responsibility to be aware of current situations. As soon-to-be voting citizens, political decisions will affect us all.

Our lives will be what we make of them and the class of 1983 has enough talent and ambition to make our goals come true. Together, we won't let the door of passage shut behind us -- or in front of us, for that is where the past, the present, the future and our identity all meet.