MARSHALL - High school graduation is but a stepping stone on the journey of life, speakers said Tuesday at the Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative spring graduation ceremony.
With the closing of one chapter of their lives, graduates now have the opportunity to chisel out a new path towards a fulfilling life.
"I say 'YOLO,' which is short for you only live once," senior speaker Jennifer Hegg said to fellow graduates Annabel Arndt, Jackson Barker, Taylor Doyle, Kailey Holte, Danny Ibarra, Kyle Kack, Rawlett Miranda and Tony Valencia. "You have the rest of your life to do what you want. Go out and meet new people, travel, buy a new motorcycle, do anything you ever dreamed about doing. High school is a stepping stone to bigger and better things."
For his keynote address, Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert chose not to enter into a deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of life or the power of the quality of education each graduate received through the district. Instead, Willert used a timeless teenage treasure - music - to share his message.
"While I remember the thrill of this day and the excitement of my own graduation in Verdi, Minnesota, where I actually had fewer fellow graduates than what you do, I have to come completely clean: I don't remember a single word that a graduation speaker left us with that day," Willert said. "So I thought about some things I connected with when I was your age."
Through his own research and in conversations with Assistant Principal Robert Walker, Willert realized that music was the biggest thread.
"I recalled the music I listened to when I was in those very chairs," Willert said. "Maybe I was whistling along to Bobby McFerrin. Does that ring a bell? 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' or jammin' out to Guns and Roses' 'Welcome to the Jungle.'"
Once in awhile, Willert admits, he was even caught listening to New Kids on the Block lyrics "you got the right stuff, baby."
"There certainly was a message in each and every one of those songs for those who took the time to listen to it," he said.
In researching the latest generation's superstars, Willert came across Lil Wayne. While he couldn't condone some of the hip-hop artist's lyrics, Willert believed that the graduates could learn a couple of lessons when it came to Lil Wayne's passion and drive. In an interview with fellow American rapper P Diddy, Lil Wayne reportedly gave a meaningful answer to why he works so hard on his music.
"After a pause, Lil Wayne's answer was timeless," Willert said. "He said, 'You get out of it what you put into it.' Seniors, you've put a tremendous amount into your preparation for life, but I hate to tell you, you're not finished. This is just the beginning. And, it has been proven time and time again that life will give you whatever you put into it."
Willert's music theme went with the special graduation music performed by the MECLA Day Care children, "The Mack Chicken Dance," and MECLA student Anthony Calderon doing "Haven't Met You Yet" by Michael Buble.
"Music is truly Lil Wayne's passion," Willert said. "I believe it's a challenge for each of you as you graduate, to find your passion, pursue your passion and live your passion."
While the future is full of possibilities for the nine graduating seniors, the road to get to that point hasn't always been easy, Hegg said.
"I started attending MECLA at the start of this year and it's been quite a journey," she said. "But without this place, I wouldn't be standing up here, graduating and speaking to all of you."
Graduation isn't just about completing one's diploma, Hegg said.
"It's about completing a big stage in your life," she said. "We all faced struggles in our lives. But regardless of issues at home or work, we showed up to school and did what we needed to do. We took charge of our lives and now we have to take full charge of our lives ahead."
Some of the graduates will continue their educational journey, while others will join the workforce.
"For right now, I'm not planning too far into the future," Valencia said. "I'll just work and see what comes along."
Regardless of where life takes him, Valencia said he's proud of his accomplishments.
"(Graduation) means a lot to me," he said. "It gives me more opportunities to move forward."