LEE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL: ‘Be the best you without being all about you’

Jun. 07, 2014 @ 08:48 PM

More than 300 seniors graduated Friday night from Lee County High School, and speakers at the ceremony gave them a dose of reality as they geared up to enter the real world.

“Your life is getting ready to change,” said Reggie Peace, the school’s athletic director and longtime basketball coach, who gave the commencement address.

“Some say high school’s the end, that it’s downhill from here,” said Shannon Allen, the swim team captain who is getting ready to enter the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. “But in reality, it’s only the beginning. You have not faced your hardest decisions or experienced your happiest moments.”

“Most of us are leaving all we’ve ever known,” said salutatorian Kaitlin Gotschalk, who is headed to UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall.

“Experience is a brutal teacher,” said Yenssi Williams, the class president, who also urged perseverance and reminded her classmates: “Even if things seem impossible, remember nothing lasts forever.”

Peace agreed that students will face bad experiences. He called them storms. And whether you’re working, in college, in the military or just sitting around doing nothing, Peace told the graduates, you will face storms. The trick, he said, is finding a sturdy anchor.

“I know what I’m anchored in,” said Peace, who began his address with a prayer. “And you need to figure out what you’re anchored in.”

Going with a tough-love approach, Peace told the graduates that many of them slacked off in class or skipped, which nearly cost them their diplomas. Some didn’t listen to parents or teachers. All that was wrong, he said, but there’s still time to turn around. So he gave a few nuggets of wisdom on how to do just that:

* “Some of you stay in storms all the time because of your friends. Choose your friends wisely.”

* “Be about solutions, and not problems. Not storms.”

* “Listen to your parents like you never listened before.”

* “Serve others.”

He said all of the graduates have gifts, whether it’s being smart, artistic, well-spoken or host of other talents. Peace said the true measure of a good person is someone who uses his or her gifts to do good for others, and who is not afraid to expand his or her talents and take risks.

“Live your life passionately,” he said, adding that “living your life passionately is also going to stretch you, and you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone.”

The student speakers echoed that call to risk in the name of improvement. Allen said none of her classmates should be hesitant to try to change themselves or the world, and Gotschalk told them not to be afraid of being different, as long as they live with integrity.

“You decide your success by how much effort you put into it,” Allen said.

“If you have the determination and spirit, you can take your life anywhere you want,” Gotschalk said.

One student already putting the advice about living a life of service and hard work was the valedictorian, who skipped his own graduation. According to Dr. Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, Daniel Briggs is already off in Montana, where he’ll be working this summer before starting school at N.C. State.

Smith said Briggs, who was also captain of the soccer team, is spending the summer at Yellow Stone National Park leading a team of fellow volunteers in the Youth Conservation Corps.

But as many students look to the future, the class president, Williams, also spoke up for students who are less sure of what the future holds for them.

“This year, we would give anything to be kids again,” she said.

Peace, though, reminded the graduates they have a whole lot of living left, and that they need to make the most of it.

“You haven’t even finished the first quarter of your life,” he said, urging them to overachieve personally but still stay focused on others: “Be the best you without being all about you.”