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Graduates dodge spotlight of their accomplishments to shine as authentic selves

On Friday, June 21, the Byron-Bergen Class of 2024 joined friends, family, and staff at the Soccer Stadium to celebrate their latest victory. This class has had many victories throughout the years: from championship athletic and academic teams, to musical performances, to pep rally trophies. The commencement speakers could have taken their speeches straight from the headlines, but instead they pulled back the curtain of adulations to reveal the faces behind the accolades. 
After welcoming and opening remarks from Jr./Sr. High School Principal Paul Hazard and Superintendent Pat McGee, Salutatorian Gabrielle Graff addressed the packed stadium. Graff thanked her family and teachers and then encouraged the graduates to be more than their grades and accomplishments. She encouraged them to be present. 
“Amidst our busy schedules of schoolwork and extracurricular activities, it became far too easy to lose sight of the significance of the present moment,” said Graff. “While preparing for my own future, I found that my personal identity became rooted in grades and scholastic achievement… Reality does not reside on a screen or as a number on a piece of paper. Instead, reality lies in the intangible experiences that we share with others.”
Senior musicians then took to the stage to perform Green Day’s “When September Ends”, sung by HannahRae Amador, Aurora Hiscutt, Elton Kinkelaar, and Malachi Smith who also accompanied on guitar with Quintin Rich on percussion, Solomon Smith on bass guitar, and choirmaster Joseph Paris on keyboards.  
Next to the stage was Valedictorian Victoria Rogoyski who opened her speech by saying, “Graduation speeches are about bestowing wisdom.” She shared three traditional quotes, ubiquitous to graduation speeches, including one from Walt Whitman who said, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.” Rogoyski then flipped the tradition on its head by pointing out that these quotes are not very practical. 
“When you’re having a bad day, this quote is not going to make you feel better,” she said. “But maybe a Frappuccino from Starbucks will.” Rogoyski then instructed her classmates to reach under their seats where they each found a coffee gift card. “This fall, when you are having a bad day, maybe this will bring the sunshine that Walt Whitman is talking about.”
Rogoyski went on to share one final quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Be the best of whatever you are.” Rogoyski used this quote as the starting point from which she enumerated many of the positive qualities of her classmates, not their accomplishments, but their nature. She named classmates for their kindness, openness, courage, speed, talents, generosity, friendship, and fabulous hair. She complimented their creativity, compassion, humor, tolerance, humility, confidence, volume, and goofy free spirits. 
“The point is, all of you have the most extraordinary qualities that I am envious of,” said Rogoyski. “You all are important. You all matter… You all have made a difference, not just to me, but to this entire school.”
The ceremony concluded with the presentation of awards, diplomas, and the singing of the alma mater. The Class of 2024 exited the stadium for the final time to thunderous applause celebrating not what they have done, but who they are. 
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