Grads get a second chance

It’s a last chance to say goodbye. A way of remembering the good times. And an opportunity to share memories of the past and hopes for the future.

It’s the high school graduation speech, the time students traditionally pause to reflect before celebrating.

This year, The Herald published speeches from 58 high school graduates. Those speeches are available online at www.heraldnet.com/grads/04.

We wondered about students who’d given graduation speeches in past years. If given another chance, what would they say?

Edith (French) Bennett, Class of 1939

Edith Bennett was one of three commencement speakers at the Everett High School’s graduation in January 1939. The school used to hold midyear graduation ceremonies.

“My speech, titled ‘The 3 R’s Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic’ – was a mundane collection of platitudes. It was a salute to callow youth, from one who was a prime example.

“From the vantage point of maturity, a lifetime of living and changing times, I have a much more profound message for today’s graduates.

“Learning must be a constant companion, for life is a living classroom. Take classes in your areas of interest, or explore new interests, read and above all ask questions, especially ‘Why?’

“Dare to dream, and follow those dreams. Mistakes will happen but learn from those mistakes. Travel the world, or at least as much of it as you can.

“Always remember to guard the freedom of ideas. Realize that each culture has unique qualities to contribute to the fabric of life. You may return to settle in Everett someday, but first explore the wonders beyond Snohomish County and Washington state.

“You and your fellow graduates are indeed the future. Make the world a better place for all mankind. Accept the challenge!”

Bennett, her eight siblings, husband Frank and four children all attended Everett High School. She later taught there for 10 years.

Shirley (Andrews) Prouty, Class of 1949

Shirley Prouty was co-valedictorian of Kapowsin High School in south Pierce County. There were 33 members of her graduating class. The school was later torn down.

“What I would change? Not a whole lot, except I would end by saying, ‘Go out and give back to your community and especially to the younger generation the excitement of what you have learned.’”

(Prouty has worked with the 4-H program, The Evergreen State Fair, the Washington Science Olympiad at Everett Community College and recently with The Pioneer Museum in Arlington.)

“In my graduation speech, I said, ‘Education has been the advancement of the world.’ That has not changed.

“The United Nation was just forming UNESCO (United Nations Educational and Scientific Cultural Organization). I mention that organization a lot.

“One of the preambles I quoted stated, ‘That since wars began in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.’ That has not changed.”

Prouty, 72, lives in Arlington.

Diana Head, Class of 1965

“I was chosen to give the graduation speech in 1965 at North Haven High School in Connecticut. I spoke on a theme chosen by the school – ‘In All Abundance There is Lack.’ I thought it was a stupid theme at the time but tried to impart an inspirational message.

“Now, nearly 40 years later, I would speak about the opposite: ‘In All Lack There is Abundance.’

“I have worked as a teacher of children with special needs, counseling director, grief therapist, welfare case worker, director of the Everett Gospel Mission Women and Children’s Shelter, and social services director of a nursing home.

“In each of those positions, I was privileged to know people who had been confronted with great loss. Yet, stripped to the raw essence of their humanity, their unique beauty, inherent dignity and tenacity served as an inspiration and testimony to the essential, God-given worth of each living soul.

“I would tell this year’s graduating class to recognize their own inherent worth and encourage them to build a life of beauty, purpose and joy, in spite of any adverse circumstances.”

Diana Head, 57, lives in Snohomish.

Alan Bonney, Class of 1965

Alan Bonney graduated from Catilina High School in Tucson, Ariz.

“After nearly 40 years, I wouldn’t rewrite a thing. My topic was ‘The Coming of the Ship.’ I used that topic to explore the future.”

Highlights:

“As we look to that future, each of us must have a goal toward which we strive, and surely, that goal is success. But what is success? Success is a purely subjective term, measurable perhaps in material gain, but defined moreover by one’s own happiness.

“That ancient adage, ‘trust thyself’ is never truer than in one’s quest for success. Your own high standards of conduct and ethical methods of performance, not the opinions of those around you, should be of primary concern.

“Where there is no path (to success), we must forge one for ourselves, for success does not come easily. We must not ignore or deny our future, for the rest of our lives will be spent there.”

Bonney, 57, lives in Lynnwood.

Stefin (Preboski) Kohn, Class of 1993

Stefin Kohn graduated from Everett High School.

“I spoke about endings, and saying goodbye. But now, I can’t imagine what I was thinking. It wasn’t about the ending at all. It was about the beginning.

“And so, what I’d like, more than to redeliver my graduation speech, would be to deliver one to my class as incoming freshman in 1989.

“I’d tell them that I spent too much of my high school career doing what other people – my friends, my teachers and counselors – thought was the right thing for me to do.

“With few exceptions, things that were do-or-die important to me in high school have little meaning in my life now.

“So I’d tell these students just starting high school: Live a little! Take more chances! Take the classes you’re interested in; ask out the guy who sits in front of you in history; go to the prom by yourself; try out for the softball team or the chess club; or simply strike up a conversation with someone who doesn’t dress like you.

“I think one of the reasons I didn’t cry on graduation night was that I thought, then, that I had it all figured out.

“But really, as I stood there, capped and gowned, and talked about the ending of my high school career, I couldn’t see that what was really happening was, instead, a beginning – the beginning of a totally different person that I was yet, am yet, to become.”

Kohn, 29, lives in Seattle.

Marko Liias, Class of 1999

Marko Liias graduated from Kamiak High School in Everett. He spoke about making decisions for the future. His full speech is available online at: www.heraldnet.com/grads/99/mliias.htm.

Liias agreed with what he wrote then, but would change the last paragraph of his speech.

“Hindsight is 20/20, and I never could have envisioned our country under attack and at war so soon, so my comments were very rosy and hopeful,” Liias said.

“Here’s the new version:

“‘As we stand at the brink of a new millennium, we are the leaders who will guide the next century. Our generation is no different from any other in the broad expanse of human history; the future we face is uncertain.

“‘Will this great prosperity and opportunity continue, or could we face our own Great Depression? Will the peace and stability we enjoy now persist, or will we face a world war? These questions can only be answered by time, but we can prepare ourselves for whatever the future holds.

“‘I urge all of my fellow graduates to believe in something greater than ourselves. Whether this is through our faith or simply our belief in the goodness of people, if we strive for a purpose greater than ourselves, we can only succeed.

“‘The only other tool I know for facing the challenge of an uncertain future is to take joy in the small things and to savor each passing moment.”’

Liias, 22, lives in Mukilteo.

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or schiffner@heraldnet.com.

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