by Jim Boyle
Elk River High School’s class of 2011 selected one of the their own to help give them their final send-off into the real world.
Karl Sagan, a 2000 graduate of Elk River High School-turned American and world history teacher at the school, offered the students 11 bits of advice.
They ranged from serious to light-hearted, and included suggestions to adapt and grow, get involved, find your passions and never forget the people who helped get you to where you are.
And before turning the microphone over to Valedictorian Theo Anderson, he reminded the students to remember an oft-heard phrase in the hallowed halls of Elk River High School.
“It’s good to be an Elk,” he stated. “As you go out and pursue your futures, people will ask where you grew up, where you graduated from, and what year. I urge you to remember this community, remember 2011, and remember Elk River High School.”
Anderson, in a speech he memorized before delivering, described the class of 2011 as one with extraordinary achievements in academics, athletics and the arts.
He noted the girls’ cross country team won state in 2009, the DECA program that went to nationals, five firsts that were won high school art students in five categories of the Central Minnesota Art Competition and a math team went to state for the first time. Sagan mentioned some of those same achievements, too, and several others.
“But the class of 2011 is more than a collection of talent and credentials,” Anderson said. “Our class was also friendly, funny and good-looking.”
Anderson described many senior classmen who stood out to him for various feats and sprinkled in some humor, like when he mentioned Michael Graber, “who could probably bench-press 10 times my ACT score.”
He also said Ashley Pederson showed that as the president of National Honor Society you don’t have to commit a misdemeanor to do community service.
Anderson took time to thank parents and teachers. He mentioned how teacher Mark Richardson not only taught students in the classroom but also “proudly served our nation overseas.”
He even thanked the other adults who are often overlooked in graduation speeches, like the counselors, the secretaries, administrators, lunch ladies, janitors, nurses and staff who “helped us along the way.”
Anderson said as for the students, who have all been guided through very similar paths up to now, will have to now think for themselves.
“Let no person, parent, party, religion or government think for you,” Anderson said. “Thinking for yourself — rather thinking wisely — is difficult. Making good decisions isn’t easy.
“In fact, at some time we are all bound to make bad decisions. But if you fall into trouble, it will be a product of your own decision making.”
Anderson said after 13 years, most of the class is ready. “So be independent and think for yourself,” he concluded. “You are accountable for your life. So make the best of it.”
Sagan, Elk River Area School District Superintendent Mark Bezek and Elk River High School Senior Class President Emily Ecklund expressed confidence in the class of 2011.
Bezek tapped parents in the stands to help him illustrate a point. He had them bellow out “When I was Young” on cue.
“We didn’t have the Internet,” he stated. “If we wanted to look something up, we had to hitchhike or ride our bike to the library across town and look it up in a card catalogue.”
He also explained the differences between not having e-mail and having to write to people with paper and a pen. And how delivery of a letter took a week.
He also spelled out what it meant not to have call waiting and to get a busy signal.
“When the phone rang and you or your parents picked it up, it was a roll of the dice,” Bezek said. “School, police, girlfriend. There were many anxious moments at the dinner table.”
And when parents told kids to go outside and play, the kids listened and went out all day, and they never came back saying they were bored.
“That meant work,” he stated.
Generations of adults have told youth they would not be up to the challenge of adulthood and parenthood, Bezek explained.
“My point is that because your parents did their job, and theirs did their job, none of us had to experience the downsides of the previous generation. Each previous generation have brought us to a higher level and made the world a better place for their children.”
He asked the sea of 430-some seniors seated in front of him what their generation’s legacy will be. “What will be your gift to your children and future generations?
Ecklund said to the class of 2011: “Now is the time to try to go out and do what we want with our lives. This is the time for us to go out and try to achieve our dreams as best we can.”