Class of 2012 urged to search for — and find — their dreams, knowing road ahead will be bumpy at times
by Nathan Warner
Elk River High School’s class of 2012 graduated in style Friday, dressed in the alternating red and black colors of their school as they filed into the gymnasium during the processional.
As soon as they were seated, Principal Terry Bizal welcomed the class, and called on the Elk River Police Department Honor Guard to present the colors. With solemnity, the Honor Guard delivered the United States and Minnesota flags to the front of the gymnasium while the national anthem echoed from the lips of listeners.
“Future commencement speeches at this school will describe your success,” Superintendent Mark Bezek told the seniors after he thanked parents, teachers and staff for their dedication to the class. “You’re off to build your own personal legend, so search for your dreams and they will find you.”
Social sciences teacher Troy McGowan delivered his commencement address with characteristic originality, writing his entire speech on a pile of recycled Post-It Notes that students had used earlier to cover the school’s walls. With only two or three words on each note, he skillfully punctuated his remarks with pauses as he moved from one note to the next.
“When you entered my class over four years ago, I told you to look around at your fellow students,” he reminded them. “I told you that when you graduated, some of them would be your best friends, your mortal enemies, a date to prom, husbands, wives, and ex-wives and ex-husbands, but no matter what, you’d all be Elks. You are in this together.” He emphasized that commencement was not an end, but the beginning of a great adventure. “After all,” he smiled, “2012 can’t mean the end of the world because you just took over!”
McGowan read a list of what many of his students had said they wanted to be when they graduated, which included elementary teachers, nurses, photographers, Air Force pilots, farmers, paramedics, corporate lawyers, dentists, tattoo artists and aerospace engineers while others remained undecided, wanted to major in “lots of stuff,” and had absolutely no idea.
“And that’s fine,” McGowan said, “just be passionate in what you do, try your best, never say never, be curious, and get out and experience life because, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, it doesn’t happen on the couch.”
“This class will be remembered as the class that was bold and that was daring,” valedictorian Dylan Berger said, sharing some of the memories that shaped those four years, including dodging seniors as freshmen and making lasting friendships as juniors. “Look at all these people who have come here tonight to support us,” he said, gesturing to the packed gymnasium, “Elk River is our supporting community and this high school is what helped nourish us. I don’t want any of us to forget where we came from and who helped make this day possible.”
Afterwards, Terrell Beaudry conducted the Elk River High School concert choir in “For Good,” which echoed the message, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better. And because I knew you … I have been changed for good.”
President of the senior class, Laura Crepeau, shared an experience of how life is sometimes like a bumpy ride through torn-up streets only to find you’ve arrived at the wrong ball game. Although she and her fellow classmates were late to the right ball game, they did arrive in the end. “Life isn’t always a straight road,” she said, “sometimes things may not work out the first or even the fourth time, but keep your heart and your mind set on your goals and you’ll arrive where you’re supposed to be.”
Crepeau added that they came from a great town and a wonderful school that supported them in everything. “Dream big and know you can make a difference,” she said, drawing upon the wisdom of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” to say what could not be said better. “‘Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go … And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.) KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!’”
“Keep a balance between work and fun,” Assistant Principal Ken Jordan told the seniors, “and choose a job that isn’t work to you and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” He summed his message up with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Elk River High School alum and Elk River School Board Director Tony Walter accepted the class of 2012. “It has been 21 years since I graduated from Elk River High School,” he said. “Not everyone leaves their community on graduation day, and some of you may remain in Elk River, giving back to your community. No matter what you do, remember the words of Rodney Dangerfield: “It’s a jungle out there. You’ve got to look out for number one… but don’t step in number two.”