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E. HOLMES DISTRICT -- "Buckle up ad get ready for an emotional roller coaster you won't soon forget," said Hiland High School valedictorian Tristen Troyer as he addressed members of the graduating Class of 2017 Sunday afternoon.
"It is a day they've been waiting for, one that begins the rest of our lives," said Troyer, who said he is not the average valedictorian delivering the average valedictorian speech.
And, while he could easily stand up and talk about a vision of a bright future filled with doctors, lawyers and marketers, he said, he instead sees "76 individuals who are scared to death of waking up some morning when mom is not there to pack lunch."
It's a future filled with no one to tell them their clothes don't match, they have failed to ace their parking job and one in which they may, stunningly, carry a cellphone into a classroom without fear of an unanticipated alert and subsequent consequence.
He looked into a crowd of 76 robed students, who came together six years ago, each year adding "a few more memories to the storybook."
He said he's thankful they've since grown together, becoming friends and making memories they will never forget.
"We sure had fun doing it," he said, noting that even though they've completed their high school journey, they remain the same awkward juvenile delinquents, but having now shared countless memories.
"We have all managed to get to this point in our lives," he said, referring to graduation as the single moment standing between the years of their youth and the rest of their lives.
But, not the end of their lives, he said, it is the beginning of their own lives, in which they can pursue their own dreams. And, in another 20 years, he said, they will look back "and be thankful for the six years that began to shape us."
For some, he said, it means goodbye. For others, it means see you later. But, for all, he said, "It has been one heck of a ride because I wouldn't change it for the world."
And, moving toward the future, he said, "Carpe diem. Seize the day."
Salutatorian Kurtis Yoder shared his impression of how high school fits into the grand scheme of life.
"I believe there's a reason for everything we do," he said, noting the habits and work ethic that will help to define of his peers as they move into the future have roots in the roles they played and unique character developed during their early years.
Their graduation from high school is but a small stepping stone in life, but one that holds great value, said Yoder, giving thanks to all those influential people who have "molded our lives into who we are today."
And, moving into the future, he encouraged his fellow graduates to look at the key characteristics they already have begun to develop.
He implored them to find purpose and reason in everything they do, hold onto integrity every day and remember that those experiences gained throughout their high school career should be used and built upon.
That, he said, is why it is so necessary to "try new things."
And, as they embark on a "brand new chapter," he asked them to remember the words of Bernie Siegel, who said, "God wants us to know that life is a series of beginnings, not endings."
To that end, he encouraged his fellow graduates to "move forward to the best of our abilities, but don't forget your humble beginnings."
To the graduating seniors, Superintendent Erik Beun shared the same Theodore Roosevelt quote he shares with the district's teachers at the start of the school year.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
And, to those graduates, Beun said, "What will you do to ensure you will get in the arena?
"I look forward to watching you get in life's arena."
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.