Good evening and welcome to the commencement ceremony for the Warrior Run Class of 2020. Although this isn’t the ceremony we anticipated, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to speak to you all tonight. During these past few months, we’ve been overwhelmed with new phrases like social distancing, unprecedented times, essential personnel and the novel coronavirus. However, this pandemic has also reminded us of some common words that we may have overlooked in the past; words like strength, service and hard work. So, as we graduate, how do we bridge these values of the past with our new, uncertain future? One word that forms this bridge is the word “essential.” During this pandemic, the word “essential” has been used to describe critical workers like doctors, nurses, and first-responders. After constantly hearing this word, though, I realized two things. First, each of us has a unique, essential purpose in this world. Second, it is those everyday values of strength, service and hard work that are the keys to pursue that purpose.

In the senior video created by Mrs. Earnest, several of you held signs reading something like “#Class of 2020 Strong.” However, I think we can all agree that although it’s easy to write this phrase on a poster, strength is a value that takes years to develop. When I was in kindergarten, I was this shy, quiet child that had to be literally peeled from the car to go into school — I was that terrified to enter the building. It wasn’t until seventh grade that I began to break out of this shell after joining the field hockey team. Field hockey pushed me way outside my comfort zone, but it made me physically and mentally stronger. Field hockey is where I became a leader and where I found my voice. The truth is, we all have these unique experiences that, although they make us uncomfortable for a moment, they mold us to be so much stronger than we were before; we often find our voices and purpose through them. Considering our past four years at Warrior Run, as well as the current pandemic, this class has consistently turned negative situations into positive ones, proving this value of strength. In the fall, a power outage on homecoming Friday canceled school along with the pep rally we had been looking forward to. However, that didn’t stop members of this class from planning one several weeks later. These students raised their voices and held the very first student-led pep rally, one that was unique and unforgettable. As this pandemic began to unfold in March, the spring musical was underway after hundreds of hours of preparation. A number of seniors were beyond excited for their final performance. After the governor’s order to close down schools, there was uncertainty about which performance would be their last. Knowing that the show must go on, those students raised their voices to the audience and left their hearts on the stage every night. These examples show us that strength can overcome some of our hardest challenges. For the Class of 2020, this value has become our cornerstone and will carry us through a future that may be uncertain. Regardless of our future path, challenges leave us with just two choices. We can crumble in the midst of crisis, or we can learn from where we’ve been uniquely placed and let those obstacles mold us to become even stronger. It is with that strength that we unlock parts of ourselves that we never thought existed, parts that prove to be essential for the rest of our lives.

As I scrolled through the Warrior Run Support-A-Senior page, I was amazed at how our class has displayed the essential value of service to our school and community, such as the National Honor Society’s special education field day and Student Council blood drives. The Class of 2020, though, does not stop serving others at the schoolhouse doors. Many from this class volunteer their time to hospitals, junior high sports, church programs, and other activities outside of school hours. I had the personal opportunity with my church to serve people through home improvement projects. Although I could barely hammer a nail, those experiences gave me the opportunity to talk to people and hear their life stories. It made me realize that, often, the greatest act of service you can do for someone is to take time to listen, and that is an act we are all capable of doing. In the midst of this current pandemic, many of you are working in essential jobs at restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes, childcare facilities, and pharmacies, where people rely on your service and listening ear. You demonstrate a daily commitment to serve and care for others before yourself. So, keep serving continuously because the beauty of service comes when the needs of others collide with each of our unique gifts and talents. As we pursue future careers and education, let us never forget that the essential value of service is what keeps us selfless and grounded in who is truly essential...those that we serve. And, with current unrest in our country this past week, serving one another will be the key to healing our communities.

A few minutes ago, Lauren did a great job summarizing the accomplishments of this class. These accomplishments were the result of many hours of hard work and dedication. Oftentimes, though, hard work takes on many forms and doesn’t always result in medals and awards. Hard work is also attending school all day and then working several more hours at a part-time job to save money for college. Hard work is making yourself physically fit to enter the military instead of relaxing during summer break. Hard work is graduating tonight and entering the workforce Monday morning. As a famous teacher once said, “You can’t cheat the grind,” and this made me realize that nothing of value comes to us without hard work and commitment. The grind is the point where working hard stops being fun and, for a time, becomes stressful and frustrating. I wish I could say things come easy to me, but the only reason I’m standing here today is because I’ve sacrificed some fun and worked hard in its place. For me, this meant not taking shortcuts to watch Netflix sooner, asking for help when I needed it, and pushing myself to not settle with “just enough.” Although I didn’t start out in the highest reading and math groups in elementary school, it was through hard work that I have become who I am today. The past does not define our future when we let hard work become part of our essential purpose.

Strength, service, and hard work do not come to us naturally but are learned values. I immediately thought of those around us that have exemplified these values. The first people I thought of were the parents, guardians, and family members who have been by our sides since the beginning. We are beyond grateful for you and for the hard work you have put into raising us to be the strong individuals we are today. Your influence has pushed us to find our unique purpose, and many of you have served as inspiration for the careers that we are going to pursue. These values have also been instilled in us by the school administration, school board, faculty, and staff. Throughout this pandemic, I have seen strength, service and hard work consistently demonstrated by the Warrior Run School District. They did not back down from the challenge of online education, and they quickly responded to the needs of students and families in the district. Finally, the Warrior Run community embraced these values by coming together to ensure that we received the support and recognition for all of our hard work. Words cannot begin to describe the appreciation that we have for all of these people, but it will be through our actions that we carry on their legacy of strength, service, and hard work.

Class of 2020, it has been a year that no one will ever forget. We have a choice to either define this year by what we’ve lost or embrace this year by what we’ve gained. We’ve gained strength as individuals and as the Class of 2020, we’ve strived to serve our school and community even in the midst of a pandemic, and we’ve worked hard to rise above our circumstances. As we depart tonight, I encourage you all to continue to use these keys to unlock your essential purpose with the same momentum and determination that you have shown this year. I wish you all the very best. Thank you.

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