Commencement: The End and the Beginning

a graduation speech


Connor Pils tells his classmates, “We are ready.”

“It will go by in a blink.” That is the phrase we all heard our parents utter as we prepared to embark on the journey of a lifetime. The journey that would teach us obedience, patience, discipline, work-ethic, camaraderie, friendship, and brotherhood. The journey that would prove to each and every one of us that we had something to contribute to this big, bad, beautiful world.

As I was writing this speech, an abundance of ideas, words, random sentence fragments, and inspirational anecdotes flooded my mind. But one of the first thoughts that popped into my head was the people in my life who have been vital to my success. The people who offered support in times of need. The people who granted guidance when there was a fork in the road. The people who have played, and continue to play, the supporting roles in the story of my life, and the stories of the 334 proud young adults sitting in these chairs. To the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and any others in attendance who have provided a helping hand to your about-to-be high school graduate, I offer my greatest and most sincere gratitude; You have helped us leave our mark.

Class of 2017, it has been a ride. As I look back on everything we were able to accomplish, I am truly astonished at the sheer amount of talent this class has to offer. We had teams competing at the regional and state levels for basketball, baseball, golf, track, cross country, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, wrestling, and of course, our undefeated state-champion football team. We had state qualifiers in math team, scholastic team, speech team, choir, band, orchestra, and so many more. Every time Dr. Koch made a congratulatory announcement, there was one if not two more waiting on his desk.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is all great. We should be proud. But what I think is far more impressive, what I believe truly speaks to the character of the students in this class, is how many times we stood together. How many times we had each other’s backs. How many times we could’ve said “not my problem” and walked away. But we didn’t. We remained united. Although there have been many positive examples, I am going to speak about one that is perhaps a little harder to hear. November 29th, 2016. The day that Caleb Jason Harnish left us. That day will forever remain in my mind, one of those days that you remember exactly where you were, what you were wearing, and what you felt inside. I wasn’t close to him, but I ran into him in the bathroom that day, only a few hours before he took his own life.

Looking back on this tragedy, as horrible as it was, one good thing came out of it. We united. We supported each other. We rallied around the community that was left in shock. Although not under the best circumstances by any means, we proved to one another that we were a family, and although this family fights, argues, and bickers, this family has been a part of the best four years of my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Commencement, noun: a beginning or a start. This may be the end of high school, but it’s the beginning of something far brighter than any of us could ever imagine. I will be the first one to tell you how much I’ll miss Prairie Ridge-all the wonderful teachers who I viewed more like friends, all the terrific friends that sometimes acted like teachers, and the community that taught me who I was. But this is not a time to be afraid. You are all equipped, we are all equipped with the tools we require for those next steps. Not just that trade school, junior college, or four-year university that we will soon call home, but the career and the life that will ensue. It may not feel like it now, but we are ready. We have hatched, utilized the resources of the nest, and now, it’s time to fly. And just like the birds who fly south for the winter, we have our sights aimed high. We have a path to take.

In conclusion, I would like to offer a quote that I instantly connected with. “Have no fear of perfection-you’ll never reach it”-Salvador Dali. We are about to enter the real world, to fend for ourselves, and about to learn more about ourselves than we ever even knew existed. But, do not be afraid. You are ready. We are ready. Aim for the moon-you just might hit a star. Class of 2017, It has been an absolute privilege growing up with you, eating with you, learning with you, cheering with you, and discovering with you. I wish you all the best of luck in your endeavors, and as I step off this stage, I have just two more words to utter: Thank You.