by Paul Rignell
Both faculty and student speakers June 7 at Elk River High School pushed members of the Class of 2013 to be proud of the perseverance they have shown through life and to keep it going.
Jacob Hillesheim, social studies teacher, opened the theme from the podium as he peered out over 392 new graduates, with nearly 2,000 family and friends filling gym bleachers around them. Close to another 400 watched from closed-circuit television in Zabee Theater.
“I know what perseverance looks like,” Hillesheim said as he scanned the rows of outgoing 12th-graders decked in gowns and mortarboards. His tone held no doubt for these students as he advised them: “We are entitled to nothing in life, so live every day to its fullest. If you have one goal in life, leave every person you meet, and every place you go, better than how you found it.”
Hillesheim said some of the graduates may never return to the campus, but that parts of them would always be there. “When you are gone, you are not gone for good,” he said. “We leave behind who we are, what we have done and who we have been.”
Aaron Schwab, Class of 2013 valedictorian, gave a major shout-out to one of his biggest supporters in a fellow honors graduate and his twin sister, Allison Schwab, with much self-deprecation.
Though of different genders, Aaron Schwab said, he and his sister would often dress alike as young children at the direction of their mother, Wendy, and oblige her by holding hands in public.
When Allison Schwab was registered in a class for acrobatics and tumbling, so, too, was Aaron Schwab as a “reluctant and chubby brother,” he said. “I couldn’t see my toes, let alone touch them, and I was often out of breath before we began.” The most humiliating day of that class came, however, when they went for tumbling and Aaron still was wearing bright red toenail polish to match his sister’s feet.
“Now, I can only look back and laugh,” Aaron Schwab said, “because it’s not important anymore.”
He became his own independent person, he said, and he told his fellow graduates that they, too, must take their skills both known and unknown (for now) and make the most of them. Each of their careers or other accomplishments will be important, he said.
“Not one trait is more valuable than another,” Aaron Schwab said. “Perseverance is the root of success, and success is a goal worth pursuing.”
District 728 School Board member and Elk River graduate Sue Farber was the last person to address the students and crowd before the board presented the hundreds of diplomas.
She said that the graduates have already reached great success as they have met, and frequently far surpassed, the requirements set by the district for graduation.
“This is a huge deal,” Farber said. “You have done it so well, that you have earned the right to walk across this stage and receive a diploma.”
She noted that many past Elk River graduates have returned to the community for employment and to raise families.
“We love this town, we love this school, and we love the people here,” she said.
But, for the many who will establish roots in other communities, Farber asked that those graduates keep parts of their hearts and spirit in Elk River.
She said that she expected most of them at some point had worn a red hat, T-shirt or jersey with an Elk logo to a home football game or other school event.
“When you’ve worn those clothes, and showed up at those events, you’ve shown pride in your school,” Farber said. “That is something to truly be proud of.”