Wilson High's Graduation was inspiring
The current issue presents the inspiring graduation speech delivered by Wilson principal Sue Brent. The inspiration was two-fold. The speech itself was a call to success and commitment, but much of the inspiration came in Brent's recounting the achievements of the graduating class.
Here, edited for brevity, is what she said:
Wilson families, visitors and graduates, thank you so much for coming to celebrate the successful completion of the class of 2007’s high school years.
I’d like to share some numbers with you: 1, 642, 2292, 11295, 343, 300, 140, 108, 61, 18, 98, 10, 3000, 7,000, 73, 2,173 and 600. The numbers say something about what this class of 343 graduates have achieved.
You spent approximately 2,292 days in school from Kindergarten through 12th grade. That’s 11,295 hours. You spent 642 days in high school, if you had perfect attendance.
You have shown tremendous skill and talent as you exit this public high school’s doors. Here are some of the accomplishments of this class: 10 seniors in Student Leadership were given the Multnomah County Sheriff’s award for raising over $3,000 this year to aid those less fortunate....
Three hundred of you will go on to two and four year colleges. (Here she invited all the male graduating seniors to stand.) Now would just the five of you standing in the front row, stay standing. All the rest of you sit down. Those of you standing, represent the world's white male college graduates and as such you are more affluent than 98 percent of the world; the gentlemen who sat down represent the rest of the world.
I’d like to share the story of two young people, Mohammed Abdullah and Emily Norton, who sit here among you.
Mohammed received the only Gates Millennium Scholarship awarded to a Portland Public Schools’ student. This means he will receive four years paid tuition to any institution he wishes to attend. It will also pay for his graduate school costs. Mohammed will attend Cornell University. He began high school at Benson, moved to Roosevelt and then transferred to Wilson in his senior year.
I mention Mohammed because he, like the 73 Wilson scholars who contributed 7,000 service hours, exemplifies the gift of giving back. His service was to the community and youth organizations; helping young students pursue their dreams by supervising a laboratory, helping young students set goals, choose books and reach reading milestones at the public library, teaching and tutoring students in the Ethiopian community.
His inspiration to succeed in science began in Africa, a continent debilitated by infectious diseases. When he first noticed that physicians in Ethiopia were performing a surgery without anesthesia, he became aware of the enormous medical challenges that the patients were facing. This first-hand experience of human suffering due to a lack of basic medical services has driven his decision to contribute by helping others.
He wants to become a doctor.
Emily Norton is one of 18 valedictorians and wants to pursue a career in International Relief Aid. She plans to attend Bucknell University. She is a Wilson Scholar whose service included constructing concrete floors for family homes in Oaxaca, Mexico with Northwest Medical Teams. As the Interact Club co-president, Emily has cooked dinners, served meals to the homeless, visited nursing home residents, and sold “Stop Genocide in Sudan” T-shirts to educate the community about the atrocities occurring in Sudan sending the proceeds to aid refugees.
Emily received the Bank of America Student Award, given to only five students in the greater metropolitan Portland area for her leadership in community service activities.
An immigrant to the US and a life-long citizen. These two graduates epitomize what we all wish for in the future, not only of America, but also of the globe, and the 21st century.
We in America who have been given so much — so much — must decide what we will do with the gifts and resources we have been afforded. Instead of using them solely for ourselves, we all have to commit to dedicate those less fortunate than ourselves.
I know that what you really care about in your heart of hearts is peace. Some of you planted $600 worth of marigolds to put that message out there. You see the situation in Afghanistan. You see the inferno in Iraq. You see the violence, the killing, the bloodshed, and, like me, you want it stopped.
So while symbols are important because they remind us of the work to be done, symbols by themselves do not replace the hard work. And what is this hard work? A great religious leader said, “If you want peace, work for justice." In the Hebrew tradition, the word “shalom” doesn’t mean just the absence of war, it means, righteousness, well‑being, integrity, healing.
Graduates, you have accomplished much. You have been given much. And much is expected of you. The world needs your gifts, your talents, your time and your love. Be generous with these.
And so I close with the words of Jim Henson’s frog, Kermit at his commencement speech to the class of 1996 at Southampton Graduate Campus, “…you are no longer tadpoles. The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave this swamp. But I am sure that wherever I go as I travel around the world, I will find each and every one of you working your tails off to save other swamps and give those of us who live there a chance to survive. We love you for it. Enjoy life! And thank you very much.”