This afternoon I had the honor of being the commencement speaker at my alma mater, Mountain Empire High School. Plenty of emotions went into preparing my words. I went to college with a goal of returning to my hometown to teach. I did. I taught, subbed, and coached for Mountain Empire Unified School District (MEUSD) for my first four years after college. However, I left. One of my high school coaches, Rick Abood, had warned me to “get out.” He said that he saw and respected what I was trying to do but said MEUSD would “suck the life out of me.” They tried. They kept me in a loop of subbing and coaching without a contract. I was treated as an overgrown student instead of a young educator. I was too much for their conservative and close-minded leadership. I applied to San Pasqual Academy. Coach Abood passed away a few months later.
Before I say anything else, I want to be sure to introduce myself because when I was in your shoes seventeen years ago, I listened to a woman tell a story about starfish being thrown back into the ocean. I’m sure there was an inspirational message in there somewhere, but, really starfish? This is the mountain. What are we going to do throw starfish into the lake?
So, first of all, I am a proud Mountain Empire alumna. I walked across the stage on this same field in 1998. I am currently a teacher. But, don’t worry. I am not going to give you my full autobiography or brag about my successes. Instead, I just want to share something I’ve figured out that may help you in the years ahead.
On my graduation day, one of our valedictorians played the song “Time of Your Life” by Green Day. To this day, I think of my last day with all of high school friends whenever it comes on.
So, I have a song for you. But, first I am going to start with just a lyric. Let’s see if you can place it. Ready? “Every road you take will always lead you home.” Did you get it? Kids, this should sound familiar because the line “Every road you take will always lead you home” is from the song “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth.
Even though this song is new, I’ve noticed that the idea of going home during challenging times actually reoccurs in songs across a variety of genres. After I left home, I noticed it even more--especially whenever I was dealing with a challenge. So, as soon as I graduated college, I followed the advice of the songs and went home. I returned to the mountain and taught here, but I left and pursued an incredibly rewarding teaching career down the hill.
It took me moving on to realize that I had made a mistake. No, not a mistake in leaving. A mistake in my understanding of home. When I heard the word “home,” I had thought of physical locations: my parent’s house, my high school, my hometown. But I was wrong, even when I was far from the comfort of the trailer I grew up in on a dirt road in Lake Morena or the glow of Friday night football lights here in this stadium, I was able to draw on home to help me persevere.
On the days when I have pushed myself too far or have to face unexpected obstacles, I long for the comfort of familiar faces, the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a close-knit community, the accountability of my childhood friends, the anticipation of traditions, the confidence of adults who unconditionally believe in my potential, and the safety of a little world miles away from the hustle of town
Even though I can’t go back in time to the high school days when I was surrounded by all of these things, they are still a part of me. They are such a deep part of my character that they enable me keep going and keep growing. This home we share is a part of my character and whether your realize it or not, it is part of yours.
Keep this in mind as you mature and explore new roads. Be confident. Mtn. Empire has prepared you. You are able to grow, to accomplish goals, to compete, to fail, to be creative, to work with others, to think big, and, most importantly to take risks. Because, regardless of the results, you will always be able to go home.
So, this afternoon, take a second to savor your last day as a mountain kid. Admire the view of a “meadow near the mountains.” Hug your family. Thank your teachers, coaches, and school staff.And, most importantly laugh and maybe even cry with your high school friends because you never know when you will see them again.
Thank you. And, congratulations to the class of 2015!
After the speech, I joined MEHS leadership in shaking the hands of the graduates as they walked across the stage with their diplomas in hand. The last boy (who to my estimate was at least a fifth-year senior) smiled at me and said, “Hey! You taught me how to read!” Hunter was one of my reading students Campo Elementary, in Mountain Empire Unified School District.