Plan-making a lesser priority at Free State High School graduation

Hannah Reussner, left, listens to her classmate Sophie Westbrook speak during the Free State High School commencement Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. Westbrook and Reussner both spoke on behalf of the graduating class.

Graduation time usually means that graduates and everyone around them are thinking about what’s coming next. But the speakers at Wednesday’s commencement ceremony for Free State High School wanted to de-emphasize the plan-making.

Sophie Westbrook, the first of two student speakers, began the evening lamenting how often she and her classmates are asked what their plans are for next year, which she translated from “adultese” to mean, “What are your plans for next year, your entire life and the future of the human race?”

She said it becomes a problem when graduates have to answer that repeatedly, since it turns attention away from the accomplishment at hand.

“Continually explaining goals makes it much harder to be happy where you are,” she said. “That’s too bad, because where we are is pretty great. We’re graduating from Free State High School. Let’s enjoy it.”

About 350 Free State High students received their diplomas inside Kansas University’s Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday night, in an event that was moved indoors because of rainy, cool weather. More than 2,000 people filled the bleachers to watch the green-gowned students receive their diplomas.

Westbrook said it’s likely that she and her classmates will stray from the paths they have set out for themselves and told them not to be carried away by those plans.

“Goals are great, but they don’t mean as much unless we stay more or less grounded in the present,” she said.

Shannon Kimball, president of the Lawrence school board, touched on similar sentiments. She began her remarks by saying her post-high school life wasn’t identical to the plan she had mapped out for herself. She encouraged the graduates to be open to going in unexpected directions.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did,” she said.

The second student speaker, Hannah Reussner, invited her classmates to look back on their years in school and marvel at how far they’ve come.

She likened her class to the train from “The Little Engine That Could” that thought, “I think I can,” as it climbed a mountain.

“We’ve faced the challenges of bad test grades, of relationship difficulties,” Reussner said. “I know that some of you are battling or have battled a serious disease. Some have lost a loved one. And some of you, along with families, are dealing with the loss of a job, a painful divorce or suffering from drugs and alcohol.”

Her message to her classmates who can’t predict what challenges they will face was simple: “I know you can.”