‘Tilt the scales toward the good’

Published 1:22 pm Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Taking the next step, finding a purpose, remembering the lessons learned when young, and celebrating students’ accomplishments were some of the final lessons of the graduating students from Prince Edward County High School during Thursday’s ceremony.

Nearly 150 students walked across the stage at the Prince Edward County Middle School gymnasium, cheered on by family members, friends, teachers and administration as they received their diplomas Thursday.

Commencement speaker Dr. Larry Stimpert, president of Hampden-Sydney College, delivered the commencement address, offering students advice about why they need to find a purpose and how to pursue it wholeheartedly.

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His son, Connor, was among members of the Prince Edward County High School class of 2018.

“The day I received the invitation to be your speaker was one of the happiest days of my life,” Stimpert said, but said he didn’t anticipate his kids’ less than thrilled reactions.

“Looking back now, I can definitely understand the potential for major dad embarrassment tonight is almost unlimited.”

Stimpert said his message was based upon a structure written by Theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick: “Find a high purpose, and build your life around it. Give yourself to it with all of your heart.”

“The world needs you to make a difference,” Stimpert said.

“We need good people to tilt the scales toward the good. To bring out the best in our fellow human beings. To encourage each others best instincts. To achieve the full potential of our humanity. … To make every day a better day. To make the world a better place.”

Each student has a gift, or an interest that pulls them out of themselves, and Stimpert encouraged them to pursue those things.

Stimpert encouraged students to look to Barbara Johns, who led the student walkout at the Robert Russa Moton High School in 1951 to protest racial and educational inequality as an example as someone who pursued a purpose to create change in the world.

“In thinking about that day 67 years ago, it’s probably not a stretch to say that Barbara Johns had exactly the right purpose and exactly the right amount of heart and passion to do what needed to be done,” Stimpert said. “As you leave this school and you reflect on this night, take and keep with you the example of Barbara Johns. Find something you care so much about that you can’t help doing it, and then do it with all of your heart.”

Division Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson spoke about three things students learned in kindergarten, which include cleaning up one’s own stuff, live a balanced life, and the third: “Watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together,” to stick with loved ones through thick and thin.

“You’re moving into adulthood,” Johnson said. “Happiness came naturally when you were in kindergarten. Now you choose.”

Gwendolyn McQuaige-Hicks, Prince Edward County High School principal, remembering first meeting the students when she was assistant principal at Prince Edward County Elementary School in 2010. They met again in middle and high school when McQuaige-Hicks became assistant principal at the middle school, then assistant principal at the high school, then promoted to principal.

“Tonight we embark upon our last occasion together,” McQuaige-Hicks said, becoming emotional. “I have seen you mature into the fine young people that you have become. Please know that I am so proud of each and every one of you, and I will continue to expect nothing but the absolute best of you.”

Salutatorian Grace Lettner-Rust similarly reminisced about aspects of the school, including everything to McQuaige-Hicks singing morning announcements, to having lunch on the gazebo.

Thanking teachers, guidance counselors, parents and administration, Lettner-Rust said the class received the opportunity and skills from the school to develop.

“Now after what seems to be an eternity of assemblies, snow days, bus rides and fire alarm drills due to burnt popcorn, our lives, they’re inextricably intertwined,” Lettner-Rust said, addressing students. “We are no longer just a bunch of students who attend class together. But we are eagles leaving their nest. Now, whether we like it or not, we will all be separated as we head off in our separate ways to trade school, the military, the workforce or college. As the final moments of our high school careers come to an end, let us celebrate together our memories and the time that we spent here.”

Valedictorian Ian Lower asked students the question, “What did you really learn in the last four years?”

He described the journey he and other students have experienced from freshmen to seniors, and the opportunities and programs they had taken that have made them into who they are now. He quoted a passage from Russell Banks’ “Rule of the Bone,” which says, “man, wherever you were before you’re on the other side now.”

“Whatever high school was for us has come to an end,” Lower said. “What are you going to take with you to the other side?”