Cheered by friends, family and the Belton community, 116 graduates of Belton New Tech High School @Waskow took their diplomas at the Bell County Expo Center and went out into the world Thursday.
Belton Independent School District Superintendent Susan Kincannon thanked the community for supporting BISD schools and Maj. Gen. Paul Funk of Fort Hood sent a recorded message congratulating the graduates.
Valedictorian Morgan Callin and salutatorian Jessica Dickson each reflected on their high school years and what they mean for the future, and departing physics teacher Stephen Jehl spoke about the passage of time.
Dickson used her old high school to-do lists to illustrate the importance of mundane milestones in a student’s life.
“Looking at (an old assignment) made me think, how could this get put on the list? How could gambling in stats class be just another chore for me to do?” Dickson said. “I will remember this project for the rest of my life; with all that was going on, it was just a to-do?”
Dickson urged her classmates to notice the small accomplishments that lead them to larger goals.
“Each small thing we cross off is something that, no matter how trivial, has changed our lives in some way,” she said. “We were encouraged to pursue our academic passions, collaborate with others, and improve our community. In doing this, we were able to create memories we would never get anywhere else.”
It is important, Dickson said, to notice how each step in a person’s life connects to all the others.
“Appreciate each moment, and everything on your to-do list,” she said. “We have all our lives ahead of us and we should experience and remember as much as possible.”
Callin spoke about the most important life lessons she has learned in high school, such as the importance of relationships, laughter and confidence. She quoted author Elizabeth Gilbert, encouraging the graduates to accept their flaws.
“Each and every person here is unique and incredible in their own way, and if we do not embrace our own messes, then who will?” Callin said.
Most importantly, Callin encouraged her classmates to make the most of their time as it passes quickly.
“We are all capable of great things, and the world is just waiting for us to do them,” Callin said.
Callin introduced Jehl, who is leaving New Tech to pursue a career in post-secondary education. In his speech, Jehl compared the passage of time to a time machine, and encouraged the graduates to properly equip their future selves for the challenges ahead.
“You get to determine today your level of preparation for tomorrow,” Jehl said. “The changes you make to your mind and body … can’t be lost.”
Jehl emphasized that learning and preparation for tomorrow does not end when high school or any other formal education ends.
“The arrow of time continues; you don’t know what the person who wakes up in your bed tomorrow will be thinking, because that person is not you, but she soon will be,” he said.
Jehl did not tell the graduates that they could achieve all their dreams; some dreams, he said, would have to be abandoned along the way. He encouraged the graduates to measure the passage of time not in days or years but in experiences. However, this measurement, he said, would be bittersweet.
“You will eventually be forced to convert to other units,” he said. “You will quite literally run out of some units. There will come a point when you can no longer measure your life in units of athletic victories or new Game of Thrones episodes.”
Jehl warned graduates not to take these “units of time” — walks to first period, smiles from a favorite teacher, or conversations with a parent — for granted.
“The only real regrets I have in my life have to do with the loss of units that I did not record appropriately,” he said. “How many more hugs from your father do you have left in your arrow? … Your parents are well aware of the dwindling number of breakfasts they will get to have with you.”
Jehl noted that the class of 2017 might be the last group of students that he personally might teach physics.
“All of these measurements are by definition, experiences you can never return to; you can only remember them,” he said. “They make up the data set that is your life.”