Due to social distancing restrictions, the Class of 2020 could not gather for a formal graduation ceremony this year. This year’s graduation speakers–Joie Gindorf, Ermina Hassan, Tristan Viegas, and Collin Preves–offered their speeches via this video.
What’s Next by Tristan Viegas *
Good morning Class of 2020, family members, faculty and staff.
I will begin by saying that this may not be the commencement speech you expected, much like this has not been the senior year you expected. The commencement speeches we are used to hearing are geared towards making everyone feel good about what they have accomplished. They are designed to provide a sense of hope that given our current situation simply seems, well, artificial. I think we all know that we can’t ignore the obvious losses we have endured these past few months; theadventure with no summit, the song, and dance with no resolve, the story with no end. This was a massive roadblock that just wasn’t the finale we deserved. Our hard-working, dedicated, and loving class, earned a closure commiserate to our efforts here. But we can’t focus on that now, only “What’s next?”, is what matters. Coach Pec has preached that simple phrase to my teammates and myself when we have faced hardship or failure. He broadened our view and turned our attention to “What’s next?” It is a rather simple mantra from a man with a plethora of life lessons, yet its meaning is profound. When all else fails, when your back is against the wall, when nothing is working out, you must look ahead to “What’s next?” It holds true in baseball when we miss the routine play or strikeout. Carrying that failure with us on our minds throughout the game further pulls us away from what we should be concentrating on, which is what lies ahead. It’s true in baseball and it’s true in our lives. We all have collectively faced great disappointment, but it is only what is happening in our future that matters.
If I were giving a feel-good speech right now, I would tell you “class of 2020 congratulations on graduating and arriving at the end of this road!” But, let’s be honest, in all actuality we haven’t reached the end of it. See, If I were giving that speech littered with platitudes, I would tell you that what lies ahead is all sunshine and success. But we now know, 2020, that is just not true. Alright, timeout. I know what you are thinking. “Tristan, my dude, why such a downer?” But what I am trying to say is that if we zoom out and expand our perspective to encompass our whole life, we really haven’t accomplished much. Our time of growing and learning at Prairie Ridge is over, but our focus should be; we have so much more yet to do. This time was really just one chapter. Just one chapter in the novel that is our life. We missed several pages of this last chapter and the ending doesn’t seem to make sense without them. Moving forward is especially difficult at this time because it requires us to turn ahead to the next chapter. If I were giving a feel-good speech I would tell you that there are only more good chapters filled with only successes to come. My fellow graduates, we all know that failure is inevitable. Miserably. Repeatedly. Drastically failing. If you are not failing, then are you really even trying? What happens when you don’t do well in that college course, you don’t get the job, or you wind up on an unexpected path? How you handle the hardships, disappointments, and tragedies in your life is ultimately what carries you on towards success. You just have to have the willpower to turn the page and keep writing your story. The effort it takes to persevere, the actual writing of your story if you will, will not be easy. But if you continue to give your all while your work ethic remains consistent and persistent I am certain you will find your story writing itself.
Over the course of my 4 years, it has been my absolute honor to play baseball for Coach Pec. Through his teaching and coaching, he has perfectly embodied the larger impact that the Prairie Ridge faculty and staff have had on each of us. Personally he has inspired a fire in me that I will carry for the rest of my life. My favorite message Coach Pec echoes, that I remind my friends of often, is “How you do anything, is how you do everything.” Everything you do in your story, in your life, must be done with great intent, fueled by the idea of what your happy-ending may look like. If this were a feel-good speech, I would tell you that that is so easily achievable. We just graduated high school and with it, we will all receive accolades, congratulations and best wishes. But, all we really did was write the prelude to our life. You and I can’t stop now. As we have all witnessed, there is nothing great about a book, or a senior year, that is unfinished. Class of 2020 I refuse to let that be our narrative. Don’t let your mission or your story go unwritten. All we have to do now is pick up the pen, turn the page and journey straight ahead to “What’s next?”
Choosing to Grow by Collin Preves
Hi, my name is Collin Preves, and it’s certainly a pleasure to be here today and to have the opportunity to address this esteemed group of students, faculty, administrators, and families. I’ve attended graduation ceremonies for three years running, and I’ll admit, it’s not necessarily the most riveting thing in the world, and yet it takes on a new meaning now that we’re all here together, despite everything. Instead of simply lying down and dying (6 feet apart from one another), we’ve chosen to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix and still have this ceremony to celebrate our class of 2020. High school boils down to choices. You’ve chosen to complete four years of high school and here you are. As we sit (or were supposed to sit) on the football field, we cannot help but look back on the choices we’ve made across our lives. Every choice I’ve made in high school, both good and bad, has pumped out the person you see before you. And in general, high school at its core is a safe environment that helps teach us how to make better choices.
Look around you, look at your peers and your teachers. Who have you chosen to make a part of your life? As freshmen we were thrusted onto a stage with an unknown cast of thousands. Along the way, we selected certain people to be cast members in our script. And even more important was how much trust we invested in those people. Did you make friends here that encouraged you to do the right thing? Did you surround yourself with peers who challenged your notions of the world and helped you grow? The same idea applies to our relationships with our teachers. Anyone who’s known me for a long period of time knows that I’m your traditional teacher’s pet, but at PR I found my motivation for doing so changed from just trying to get good grades to developing a relationship with faculty who I knew were invested in my growth and held me to a higher standard to become the best me possible. Throughout four years, teachers like Mrs. Hartnett have taught me valuable life skills, such as public speaking, which I think has paid off but you’ll have to tell me later! I know not everyone here is as much of a workaholic as I am, but I think all of us have at least one teacher or staff member who we have chosen to call a friend.
High school has not only been an exercise of social interaction, but also one of patience. Each of us has faced that challenging class or a teacher we may not have seen eye to eye with. Life tosses us hurdles, and we have a choice of how we approach and react to them. Sometimes in high school we tripped over those hurdles, and either we could lay there and wallow in self pity, or we could pick ourselves up and get ready to jump the next one. There are even times when I’ve seen people not just jump over the hurdle, but jump off of it, and ascend to a higher level than they knew they could achieve. Now that we’re at the end of the race, we have all jumped over more hurdles than we can count, and that begs the question on how well you’ve chosen to approach and learn from them.
Ultimately, high school is about choices. Throughout four years of time we’ve grown steadily better at making choices. We make mistakes, sure, but we can choose to use them as stepping stones for growth, and we know if we’ve chosen our allies well, that they’ll forgive us for our shortcomings and help us make strides towards being better. I’m far from a perfect human being. I have yet to master the art of decision-making, and that’s okay. This has been a four year adventure in which we came in as scared freshmen, and came out as imperfect, but human adults. We all have regrets on how we’ve spent this window of time, but if we’ve learned anything, it’s that we still have the choice to move on and grow. When you get your diploma, no matter what path you choose to walk from here, you will begin to see the results of your decisions. Hopefully, these three and a half years of school and one semester of purgatory have made you not just better at memorization or multiple choice, but rather, better at making the correct decisions that will allow you to be the best human being you can be.
* texts as provided for spring audition