OTTUMWA — More than 300 young people went from being Ottumwa High School students to high school graduates Sunday. Now it's time for each of them to stand out, said one of their speakers, and continue to grow.
It's become tradition for the senior class to choose a teacher who has made a difference in their lives, and to ask that educator to speak during graduation. The Class of 2013 chose social studies teacher Kelly Scott. OHS Principal Mark Hanson said Scott told him that among the awards and honors he's received, being asked by students to speak at commencement is "the coolest."
First, students heard from classmate Charles Altfillisch, president of the Class of 2013. He started out somber: That today was the first day of the rest of their lives, and that they should thank those who were so supportive of them through their high school years: The employees at Taco Bell.
There were lessons they learned at the fast food stop that will last them the rest of their lives, Charles said. Looking up at that menu board, as with life, they see many choices.
"Decision making is an important skill," he said. "Soon, we will have to make more important decisions than whether to add sour cream."
But if you can decide whether an item would be better or worse with sour cream, you can, the class president was confident, make any decision the world presents. Late night snacks and quick lunches taught students another lesson.
"It's always better with company," Charles said.
It might take just a minute to wolf down a taco, but the kids would spend the rest of the time there hanging out with friends, socializing and making memories. No matter what changes, who keeps in touch or who moves away, those memories and those friendships will always be there, he said.
Mr. Scott wasn't sure how to approach his speech, he said: Humor doesn't always work out, and telling students how tough the real world can be would surely prove redundant — that will become apparent quite soon, he said. So he spoke from the heart. His students know he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Those who knew him thirty years ago would have never, ever expected to see him as a teacher. He never pictured, it either, as he went from one trouble to the next. The way he discovered his true calling was through education. The more education he received, the further away he moved from the end destination everyone imagined to be his fate.
In Scott's, he had done jobs ranging from factory work to parole officer. Maybe kids can learn from his experience: Scott didn't need to find his calling right away. The journey was rewarding, and helped make him who he is, just like it can help the young people at Bridge View Center on Sunday become the people they want to be.
Will all your journeys be smooth sailing? No. Will you walk out of here to your desired destination? Probably not. But remember, Scott told them, education, whether it's traditional, vocational or on-the-job, is your passport to the future. Character is you're compass. It's one of the things graduates must maintain if they are to distinguish themselves from the approximately 100,000 seniors graduating this year. And finally, remember that 30 years from now, you may not be the same person you are today.
School board President Carol Mitchell spoke to character as well when she told students to "do the right thing, no matter what anyone else thinks." Respect yourselves, respect others and accept responsibility for your own actions, too, she said. And volunteer.
Mitchell herself has volunteered on the Ottumwa school board since the OHS Class of 2013 was in first grade, she told them. And she's found it very rewarding, watching the school district, and these students, grow.
"You have so much to give," she said.
To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark