Arlington Memorial High School graduates reflect on lessons learned

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ARLINGTON — A new beginning emerged for members of Arlington Memorial High School's (AMHS) Class of 2017 at their graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 10.

The 29 graduates were joined by family, friends and faculty in the school's gymnasium as the class bid farewell to one another.

Valedictorian Jena Staab spoke about how she believes that the lessons the graduates learned weren't all just from the school itself and that many of them stemmed from situations beyond the classroom.

Staab reflected back to the start of her freshman year, when a new classmate from Guam introduced her to Buddhism at a meeting they attended together outside of school. While Staab felt afraid of this new experience, she soon learned it was much more than the stereotypical images that come to mind when hearing about it.

"The more I learned about it, the more it made sense," Stabb said. "It has taught me that it is up to each of us to make the most of the world around us. It doesn't matter where we are. What matters is who we surround ourselves with. We must approach obstacles with willingness to learn and grow and respect for others because even in the face of anger and aggression, we must remind ourselves that deep down we have the potential to be our best selves. It is entirely up to you."

Salutatorian and class president Margaret Smith reminisced about all the problems the class faced together since many of them first met at the beginning of their educational journey, which she called the "worst pre-kindergarten class in the history of Happy Days."

Over the years, students in this class found themselves in more sticky situations, with the minor troubles they caused at every step of their journey, many in elementary school.

"But the point is that we did all of this together, and we somehow made it to this day," Smith said, "which seemed like it would never come as we sat with our heads on our desks. But it did, and tomorrow we will begin to make new memories with new people, forever keeping these memories in the back of our minds."

Parting advice was granted by commencement speaker Anucha Browne, who serves as the NCAA Vice President of Women's Basketball Championships.

Growing up, Browne was always taught to respect others and to be willing to give others a chance, no matter what.

College was one of the first times Browne had been introduced to so many different kinds of people, which was much different than the small Catholic high school to which she was accustomed. Northwestern University was a much larger place, featuring people of many different backgrounds, an experience Browne says has helped her grow.

She reflected on a time when she was in an uncomfortable situation with a woman she met at college, who later became a lifelong friend. This woman was white and came from a family that was racist, something Browne did not realize until she went over and stayed at her house.

Despite the rough beginning, the two built a connection, and Browne helped her friend learn to grow and accept differences.

"I am convinced that her partnership and her relationship we had throughout her life changed her perspective," Browne said. "Despite the environment that she was raised in, it really changed her perspective, and so I lend you this story because I want you to carry it with you. You will meet people along your path that you may not relate to. I encourage you to surround yourself with people who look like you and people who don't look like you."

Browne encouraged the graduates to also make a change in this world and in the country, because she said the current climate in America needs work. She has faith in the country's youth.

"That happens through communication," Browne said. "I challenge each and every one of you to think about your impositions where you have an opportunity to lead or follow. I encourage you to lead. And what does that look like? What does leadership look like? Leadership looks like standing up for the right thing, even if you're standing alone. Leadership looks like saying to your peers 'no don't do that, that's not cool.'"

Browne also believes leadership is having your own beliefs, even when those around you may not think in the same way. She encouraged graduates to be leaders and to be aware that every step leads you to who you are. Browne wants them to have a voice and to use it wisely.

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