Washington High School held its 145th commencement ceremony on Friday at Gardner Park in Washington Court House to honor the class of 2021.
With beautiful weather, the graduation was able to be held outside without restrictions from COVID-19. The families of graduates joined the ceremony from the home side of the field.
The ceremony began with the playing of the National Anthem followed by Macy Miller and Hartley Larch leading band and choir in the Alma Mater. After an invocation and reading from Alexa Perez, Beth Day — assistant principal at Washington High School — introduced the various board members and Washington Court House City Schools administration.
Next, Megan Gruber welcomed the crowd, and WCHCS Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey addressed the seniors on two topics important to him.
“The first is service. Service to others is a gift that we give to others but we owe to ourselves,” Bailey said. “Happiness from within comes from those things that we do for others. Booker T. Washington stated, ‘Those who are happiest are those who do the most of others.’ Not only does service lead to happiness, but research has shown that those who serve benefit from more satisfaction in their own life. The second thing I want to mention is the idea of personal character. Character is achieved and not received. It is the product of constant action, striving daily to make the right choice, personally. We must be what we wish to appear to others. By demonstrating such qualities as reliability, honesty and sincerity, we may hope to prove by example that we value character. I wish you nothing but the best as you leave the halls of Washington High School, and I am excited to see how you, individually and collectively, can make our community and our world a better place to live.”
After recognizing the Academy of Scholar recipients, the next to speak was Ryan Sheets — who was selected by the class of 2021 to reflect on the students.
“Without surprise, one of my greatest passions in life is researching and teaching history,” Sheets said. “History has taught me so many life lessons, and I enjoyed every day that I got to share those lessons with you. With that being said, I want to share one final history lesson that will help you in your efforts to build a successful and prosperous life. I used to become frustrated by life’s roadblocks. I would judge my life’s quality and happiness depending on how few the challenges were that I faced. I wanted everything to work out exactly how I pictured it. With this in mind, consider the lives of the most legendary and heroic people we’ve discussed throughout history: Lincoln, Churchill, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King. As I read countless biographies associated with names such as these, I started realizing something — the greater the struggle that one faced, the more legendary they became. Their immense struggles and failures lead to extraordinary and inspiring successes. I will truly miss the deep intellectualism and colorful personalities of this exceptional class. Next year, I’ll still be surrounded by familiar students, but there will be a certain emptiness in the halls as my very first class will be out in the world making a life for themselves. You’re an inspiration to us now, and you’ll be an even greater inspiration in the future. I hope you become more successful and happier than you can possibly imagine, and I hope to hear about all you will become. I wish the class of 2021 all the best.”
Next to speak were the various students who were designated as earning the “Honors with Distinction.” Beginning in 2016, Washington High School honors any student who meets the established criteria as students who achieve “Honors with Distinction.” The criteria includes: earning an Honors Diploma from the State of Ohio, an ACT score of at least 27, earning at least 28 credits, a G.P.A. of no less than 4.0 on a 5.0 scale, and passing at least one weighted class in each core content area throughout their high school career.
Macy Miller started off the student speeches and gave the class of 2021 a call to adventure.
“While it is extremely important and more than due to celebrate this occasion, it is even more important to reflect on what it took of us to get here,” Miller said. “This very moment came from a series of struggles, losses and battles, but nevertheless we persevered through it all. The hardest part of our journey, however, was not the hardships we faced along the way, but rather the beginning of our story—our call to adventure. We had many beginnings during our story together throughout these past 13 years: our first day of kindergarten, our first field trip, our first essays. These firsts were difficult and daunting tasks that each one of us had to overcome to step foot into our journey of becoming ourselves. While we all led different journeys, we were in it together. Class of 2021, I implore you to use our past beginnings to spark a fire in your souls to make that first step into the world.”
Reilly Downing spoke about how the class has always been adapting and that they have already shown the tenacity to succeed in life.
“Many of us lost friends who had moved away, or were even frightened by the countless new strangers who were the upperclassmen,” Downing said. “Our journey began with young, eager and collaborative minds seeking novelty and knowledge. But what really pushed us was the necessity to prevail, to stand tall in a strange land and to make it our own. We were forced on day one to sink or swim in an environment more fast-moving and high stakes than any academic environment we had experienced. We are resilient. When we proved to ourselves and to each other that we could overcome the first hurdles of high school, the first obstacles of our professional lives, we proved that we can and will succeed in life, to each and every one of our personal standards.”
Next was Analese Mitson who spoke about the importance of mentors and the ones that impacted her the most.
“On this long awaited graduation day, I would like to thank all of the teachers who brought us to this point,” Mitson said. “We couldn’t have done it without you. From Cherry Hill’s alphabet rugs to the Friday night lights in this very football field, the educators and staff members of Washington Court House City Schools have paved the way for our success. We have learned a lot on our journey together, but I hope you take with you more than just algebra and past participles. I hope that as you begin walking your own path, you’ve learned to have faith in the world around you and to have faith in yourself. I hope you’ve learned more about who you are than you’ve learned about World War II. And I hope you’ve learned how you deserve to be treated.”
Gruber spoke next and talked about the trials and challenges the class has faced and that something such as COVID-19 only helped to strengthen them.
“The road to graduation looks different for everyone,” Gruber said. “Each of us have faced unique struggles to get where we are today. The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented challenge during our junior and senior years. As a class, we had to be resourceful and had to focus on gratitude to get through this once in a lifetime obstacle. But that is not to say that COVID is the only challenge we had to face as a class or as individuals. However, we know from experience that hardships make us better and stronger people in the long run. Although each of us have walked different paths to get here today, we will walk on this same stage, receive the same diploma, and finally be able to say, ‘We did it.’”
Next to speak was Preston Hines. Hines spoke about the future and the uncertainty that comes along with graduating from high school and looking to the future.
“Today, we will all embark into the chaos of new and exciting growth. Some of us are headed into the work force or college, others to the military, but we are all stepping into the unknown. We are all taking a leap of faith and choosing to make something of ourselves. Informed by my wisdom, or at least as much as an 18-year-old can possess, I tell all of you to find what is uncomfortable and immerse yourself in that discomfort. Embrace it. I learned that everything that I had felt at the time was hard or undesirable is what has given me high levels of edification in the long run. This ability, this sense to acclimate to adversity is one of the most virtuous, and one I strive to possess. Now let me be clear, this is not a how to for life or anything like that. This is a fellow peer, standing in the same shoes as all of you, trying to make sense of the ever approaching dark haze of future potential and opportunity. My attempt is to give you a compass, so that you might have an easier time navigating that haze.”
Ashlynn Thevenot was next and built upon what Hines was saying and continued to encourage the class to make the world better.
“We need to embrace the challenges and opportunities that each and everyone of us will face in our futures,” Thevenot said. “We are the bright and shiny young adults that can make a difference in the world. We have the potential to impact so many different aspects of the world, no matter how small. Life is a journey. It may have its ups and downs, but what truly matters is your reaction. Life will throw obstacles in your path every step of the way. Getting knocked down may be discouraging, but challenges give us an opportunity to grow. In these four years of high school, each of us have faced all sorts of challenges. Change is good, although it may be frightening, approaching the changes with a good attitude can make the world of difference.”
Finally, Morgan Williams concluded the student speeches with a bit of reflection on each of them and gave some advice to the class of 2021.
“One by one, the speakers before me laid out the main components of ‘A Hero’s Journey,’” Williams said. “Which we once learned in middle school and reviewed in high school. For those of you who are less likely to remember anything that was said in your middle school English classes, allow me to lay out the hero’s journey for you quickly. The adventurer is presented with a new quest, and soon sets off into this new, challenging world. They are aided by one or many mentors who are wise and often old, though we figured we would leave that part out until now. They often find themselves struggling greatly, only to come back stronger and changed forever. As you make your way through this new adventure I encourage you to pull inspiration from the one coming to an end today. To conclude this speech, I would like to share a quote from a single piece of literature I forced to fit every prompt I have ever received. So, as written by Oscar Wilde in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray,’ ‘Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.’ Congratulations and good luck class of 2021.”
Following the scholarship recognition — where thousands of dollars were given to various seniors in the class of 2021 by a host of local donors — each senior was given their diploma. With thunderous applause, the class was released for the final time.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 463-9684 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.