They wore XtraTuf boots, high heel shoes, sneakers and slippers. They decorated their mortarboards with stuffed animals, religious symbols and greetings. One senior wrote, “Four years for a piece of paper and a handshake.” As they walked out, they strode to John Williams’ “Imperial March,” passing by a stage with the slogan, “May the Force be with you” — all part of the Star Wars theme the class of 2015 chose.
At commencement Tuesday night in the Homer High School Alice Witte Gym, the class of 2015 graduated with style. With Flex High School’s graduation the same night (see story, this page), commencement in Homer has become a spring tradition celebrated by people who might not even have children graduating.
For the seniors, graduation also marked four years of challenges, including the trauma of a sexual assault at a teen drinking party in 2012 and the recent death of one of their classmates, Devin Iredale-Sharp, who died last month in Cooper Landing.
“I will have to say you’re the most resilient class I know,” said Homer Middle School teacher Tim Daugharty in his commencement address. “You’ve been through more adversity.”
Valedictorian Jenna Dragoo also noted that perseverance. Dragoo was one of three valedictorians with Brandon Beachy and Jonas Noomah.
“For all you graduates here tonight, I’d like to thank you. I thank you for not giving up,” she said.
Resiliency and the Force became the themes of graduation addresses. Both Daugharty and valedictorian Jonas Noomah spoke about the power of resiliency. Beachy chose as his valedictorian address theme the Force, the concept in the Star Wars movies of a universal energy exerted by all living things.
“So whether you like it or not, you are the Force,” Beachy said. “Let’s be the driving force that pushes things forward.”
Daugharty, who gave the commencement address in 2006 and had been invited back, said when he looked up “how to give a commencement speech” on Google, the advice he got was to address compassion. He gave the students advice he called “the three H’s.”
• Honesty and integrity: “My mother always told me, ‘Tell the truth. There’s less to remember,’” Daugharty said.
Remember the rules you learned in middle school, he said. Be prepared. Be on time — “And not Homer time.” Pay attention. Talk less. Make eye contact.
• Homer: Small towns are like passing gas on an elevator, Daugharty said. “Everyone knows who did it.” There’s a dark side to Homer, too. “Nothing good ever happens after 10 p.m. for young people ages 16 to 30,” he said.
Explore the world, go out and learn, get a trade or an education, and come back with some sort of marketable skill, Daugharty said.
• Health: That means physical and mental health, Daugharty said. Exercise and sweat. Laugh.
“You have to laugh, folks. It’s healing,” he said. “And finally, looking out at you, you have to sleep, too.”
Noomah is a peer educator with the R.E.C. Room’s PHAT, or Promoting Health Among Teens, program. He started his talk with an exercise: squeeze your hands in a fist, relax and let go. That’s resiliency, he said, noting that Daugharty had already spoken of the subject. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back, Noomah said.
“It doesn’t mean you never get hurt,” he said. “It means you have the ability to bounce back.”
People become more resilient by having people around them who help, people you can talk to, he said.
“If you don’t have that person in your life, be there for someone else,” Noomah said.
Resiliency has become a popular idea, he said.
“The most important way to promote resiliency is to believe you can change,” Noomah said. “You are all examples of resiliency. None of us have had an easy time getting here. … You are all the proof you need that change can happen and you are resilient.”
That was the same advice Daugharty gave.
“Now here you are moving on,” he said. “Resiliency has given you the skills to succeed. … 2015, you’re awesome individuals.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Damon Del Toro
Clement Tillion IV