Graduation advice from an 'old Goldbug'
May 21, 2021
Despite an earlier light shower, the Alva High School graduation proceeded as planned on the Northwestern Oklahoma State University (NWOSU) football field Sunday afternoon. AHS seniors wearing caps and gowns proceeded to their chairs and remained standing for the national anthem. Following a prayer, AHS Principal Cory Smith introduced members of the board of education seated on the stage before welcoming seniors and guests.
The AHS mixed choir, directed by Alisha Beleele, gathered to sing "We Won't Stop Dreaming." Then
Smith introduced featured speaker Dr. Janet Cunningham, the president of NWOSU.
After a listing of her many accomplishments, Cunningham said, "Well, I think he could have said, 'Welcome to an old Goldbug' because that's what I am.
"First I want to say congratulations to the graduates. You have completed something that unfortunately, even today, many in our country and state do not. But please don't think you are done because you must continue to learn your whole lives whether or not it is a formal classroom."
She talked about challenges of the past year. "I want to tell you that you are extremely fortunate as students of Alva Public Schools that you have had a school year much closer to normal than many students around the state and certainly students around the nation.
"Sure, you have had to deal with masks and a few quarantines and maybe the cancellation of a few events, but for the most part you've been able to go to school, see your friends and teachers, continue with athletics and other extracurricular activities and have face-to-face instruction.
"I don't know if we appreciate how big of a deal that really is, but it was huge. You have your school board and administration, your teachers and staff, your parents and your community to thank for that. Please don't take it for granted. I think not taking things for granted will turn out to be one of the big lessons learned from the pandemic and a big lesson to be learned from life."
Cunningham spoke about experiencing school through the eyes of her grandson Zane as he began kindergarten. "He thinks school is the best. It's a place where he gets to go and learn how to read, where you get to have recess and play, and where you have the best teacher to take care of you and who teaches you wonderful things."
Be Proud of Where You Come From
Offering advice to the graduates, Cunningham listed five points. First she told them to be proud of their hometown. "I know that there are many of you who can't wait to get away. But know that if you leave, you will be welcomed back with open arms.
"The Alva Public School district is excellent. It has a great reputation around the state. My husband Rick and I will always be Goldbugs, my children are Goldbugs and the Alva Public Schools did a great job in preparing them for their chosen fields. Now I have grandchildren who are Goldbugs."
She listed some of the accomplishments of the Class of 2021 including a senior who made academic all-state, basketball team members who made it to state and those in speech who won sweepstakes at state.
Don't Take Anything for Granted
"As I thought further about what I would say today, I thought back to my own graduation which was many, many years ago," said Cunningham. "They always say no one who graduates ever remembers his or her commencement speaker. But honestly, I do. My commencement speaker was Lex Frieden, a very accomplished graduate of Alva High School." She told about Frieden being injured in a car wreck in college and confined to a wheelchair, but he was still successful.
"These next two items of advice have stayed with me through all these years from that graduation speech," she said. "Don't take things for granted – things like walking and talking and seeing and hearing; things like being in a classroom with your friends and a teacher; things like being able to visit your grandparents anytime you want; things like going to movies; things like being able to shop without wearing a mask. This year has certainly taught us to be grateful for a lot of things that seemed pretty insignificant before."
Evaluate Your Priorities
Cunningham said, "Something that goes right along with 'don't take things for granted' is evaluating your priorities. I believe that the pandemic has encouraged many of us to do this. I can tell you that relationships are what last – relationships with your faith, your family and your friends. Your family is so important.
Never Stop Learning
"Some of you may be thinking right this moment that you will never set foot in a classroom again," she said. "I hope that many of you have plans to attend college. A baccalaureate degree is still the best hedge against unemployment and achieving a standard of living for your family that you desire. Some of you may be entering a technology center for additional skills or entering the military, both of which are good alternatives.
"But know that you do not know enough right now. I'm going to say that again. Know that you do not know enough right now. I will put this in a different way for me personally. What I know today with a doctoral degree is not enough for what I need to know tomorrow. The rate of the change of the world is so fast that you have to keep learning."
Approach Every Opportunity with Enthusiasm
Cunningham said, "Lastly, approach every opportunity with the enthusiasm and trust of a brand new kindergartner. Don't be cynical, don't be jaded. Be excited and ready to explore. Set your goals high, and work hard to reach them."
After recapping the five points, Cunningham offered her favorite quote by Michaelangelo – The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.