'The parents are the real heroes'
May 26, 2023
Proud family members filled Alva High School Auditorium May 20 to see the Class of 2023 receive their high school diplomas. Cellphones and cameras were raised as the senior class filed down the aisle. The big milestone had been reached.
Following the senior mixed chorus, Dr. Vickie Nighswonger, AHS principal, introduced Superintendent Tim Argo and members of the Alva Board of Education who were seated on the stage along with featured speaker Willie Spears.
Introducing Spears, Nighswonger said he graduated from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva in 2000 with a degree in mass communications. He was a member of the 1999 national championship football team and selected as an NWOSU 2008 Outstanding Graduate in the area of education. Spears earned his master's degree in education from Troy University, and he has written 14 books. Although he lives in Panama City, Florida, Spears calls Alva his home. "Please welcome one of Alva's adopted sons, Willie Spears," she concluded.
After some opening remarks and a joke, Spears said, "I want to welcome you to a celebration of excellence. It's amazing the turnout today, how important it is for you to be her for this momentous occasion to celebrate with these young people.
The Real Heroes
"I want to talk about the heroes today. I want to talk about the real heroes – not you guys, your parents. The parents are the real heroes. The parents look nice and dressed up right now, but I know the truth. They were the ones saying, 'Get out of the bed and get in your car and go to school.' That was the parents.
"The parents were the ones saying, 'Did you do your homework? Did you get your project, did you get that done?' That was the parents. And I know your parents get on your nerves, I know. I know you can't wait to be grown, I know. And I know you see them crying, but those are not tears of sadness. They're tears of joy. 'We've been waiting for this baby.'"
Spears explained his family is experiencing the same thing. "I have one of you at home. I have a senior," he said. "She thinks that we're so happy that we've already called a U-Haul company. When she walks out of graduation, she'll be walking into a moving van." He asked the graduates to lead everyone in applause for their parents.
"I want you to remember this, if you don't remember anything else I say today," Spears told the seniors. "Remember to always love. In our country today we could use more hope and more love. Always love.
"And in order to work, there have to be a lot of volunteers – so always volunteer. I've learned that volunteering, helping other people that can't help themselves is the most rewarding work that any of us can do. So always love, volunteer and help individuals go higher."
Spears said before coming to Alva from Florida, he checked the Alva Police Department Facebook page, joking that he wanted to see if they had any warrants for him. "I noticed on the Alva Police Department Facebook page they did a senior spotlight. And they've been doing senior spotlights since March. And they spotlighted so many seniors, every one of you, and I read every one of them. Almost everyone said that what you loved about Alva High School is the great teachers that they have here." He asked for a round of applause for the teachers.
Pick Your Destination
He said the second thing he did was to put Alva, Oklahoma, in his GPS. He said a few months ago, he came to Alva with his daughter, trying to convince her to attend NWOSU. They left Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City very late at night, and he asked her to put Alva in the GPS. She typed AL and chose the first city that came up. "That city was Altus. We drove from Will Rogers Airport to Altus, Oklahoma. At 3 o'clock in the morning, I realized we're not in Alva, Oklahoma. We're in Altus, Oklahoma, so I put her on Amazon and tried to sell her to the highest bidder!"
Spears told the graduates to ask themselves, "What is your desired destination in life? Have you set goals? Because this was one goal – to graduate from high school, but now it's time to set a new goal."
He provided the seniors a different acronym for GPS: goal positioning system. "What do you want to do with your life? You get to pick."
He cautioned them that sometimes there are failures. He said, "When I was starting to become a teacher, I failed the teacher test. I was embarrassed by that. I've been Teacher of the Year three times. My diploma, my certificate, doesn't say, 'It took this dummy a while to pass the test.' It says the same thing as the person that passed it the first time."
In closing, Spears listed some thoughts using the letters in Alva. A – Always have a plan. L – Listen to someone older than you. V – Value your mistakes; it's okay to mess up. A – Act more mature than us adults. "The truth be told, we all look better in black and gold. You guys look amazing," he said. "The best class you'll ever see is the Class of 2023."
The Class of 2023 filed across the stage to accept their diplomas and begin a new chapter in their lives.