Thursday’s ceremony in Bob White stadium was filled with celebration, hope and empowerment reminding the 238 graduates that every day they can make choices that can have positive impacts on their world.
“The Class of 2023 is a unique and special group of individuals, but we all share one thing in common: the potential to make a difference. Each and every one of us has the power to create positive change, and it starts with looking beyond ourselves and recognizing the needs of the community around us,” said TKHS senior speaker Mia Dickman.
Even before the members of the Class of 2023 stepped into the stadium for graduation, they’ve been instruments of change. They’ve been involved in helping each other, their community and leaving positive impacts in their world through service projects and community programs. Their unique ability to make their own choices and create positive changes in their world was a common theme among the commencement speakers.
“Every single day, we have the power to choose. We can choose to be extraordinary, choose to stand out, choose to embrace courage and strive for excellence. We can choose to give, and to love, to make a difference, to be the change and leave our mark,” said Dickman.
She reminded everyone that even a small, seemingly insignificant action, can inspire others. “The small acts of kindness, the words of encouragement, the willingness to lend a helping hand–they may seem insignificant at times, but they have the power to touch hearts, uplift spirits, and inspire others to follow suit. It only takes one little action to make a big difference. It only takes one little action to start a chain reaction of good.”
Keynote speaker English teacher Cary Saxton also talked about choices everyone faces daily with so many options always in front of them. She said writing a commencement speech was a “daunting task” and joked that she immediately opened up Chat GPT (an artificial intelligence program) to let it try to write her speech.
But she realized that’s not the solution to the problem. “I know Homer Simpson said this originally about alcohol, but, doesn’t it seem like technology is both the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems? If we use technology to soothe the anxieties that technology has caused, where does that leave us, as humans? We’re caught in the middle of this loop, in a place where it’s very easy to alleviate our suffering, but also very hard to develop a sense of agency. In that loop, it’s less about choosing the life we want for ourselves, and more about retreating away from the life we don’t want,” she said.
She also told students that struggling to do something yourself can be a most rewarding experience. “Anyone out there who’s ever had to work hard and struggle for something, you know the ecstasy of accomplishment. Whatever has been hard for you— if you have chosen to face it head on and actually made it through— you know that’s the best feeling in the world. You graduates are probably feeling it right now! That is life! That’s what makes it all worthwhile!” she said.
She challenged the graduates to choose to do the human thing. “Choose to engage in the struggle, and to set a course for yourself not predetermined by algorithms or anyone else…As a human, you are capable. You have value. You have beliefs. You have goals, and dreams, and needs, and wants. Take some time looking inward to figure out what those are and then, make your choices! Shoot your shot! Decide what you want your life to look like, and make it happen,” she said.
She encouraged the Class of 2023 to understand their abilities. “You are a terrific, capable group of humans and I cannot WAIT to see what choices you make as you flood the world with your brilliance.”
In introducing Saxton as the keynote speaker, Luke Kaiser said she is the teacher who challenges students to adapt to unexpected obstacles and new projects.
“Armed with an endless stream of classroom ideas, Mrs. Saxton is always innovating her teaching process, pushing students outside their comfort zone to galvanize growth. Perhaps most importantly, Mrs. Saxton is also a great friend; she recognizes each student’s individual needs and is always ready to strike up a friendly conversation. I truly believe there is no person more fitting to address the graduating class than Mrs. Saxton,” he said.
The class roll was called by senior class advisors Caeli Loris and Pat Pullen, and diplomas handed out by members of the board of education who enthusiastically offered hugs to many and a heartfelt congratulations to all.
As the graduates settled in their chairs again, Zellmer gave the closing remarks, echoing some of the same sentiments about making choices.
“We are powerhouses of innovation and imagination. We will push boundaries that can change this world for the better. For us, a new day can bring opportunities for greatness, and a reminder not to let our past failures define our futures. What we have learned in our time in high school has taught us to believe, wholeheartedly, that there is nothing we cannot do,” said Zellmer.
That’s exactly what senior Andy Liu told classmates in his opening remarks as he referenced “Victory Royale” and characters from video games. “Roadhog teaches us that success comes from hard work, determination, and the courage to take risks. These are the same qualities that have brought us to this momentous occasion today. Congratulations, Class of 2023. May our future be as bright as a Golden Scar and as victorious as a "Victory Royale."
The last official act in the ceremony was Graysen Stahle leading the class in the tassel ceremony and then tossing their mortarboards into the air as the band played the school fight song one last time. Graduates raised their arms, and pumped their fists as they sang along, “Never falter, Never fail, ‘Cause our team will never die, Fight, Fight, Come on team fight - Victory for TK HIGH!”
Congratulations TK Class of 2023!