Lawrence High’s Class of 2018 encouraged to rethink definitions of success, failure

After a year in which Lawrence High School students lent their voices to causes both local and global, it was fitting to see LHS’ Class of 2018 celebrate graduation by once again challenging convention.

In her remarks Wednesday evening, school board President Shannon Kimball told Lawrence High’s 334 graduating seniors that she wasn’t going to offer them the standard advice of “dream(ing) big.” Instead, Kimball encouraged the students not to overlook the little things, particularly small acts of kindness in a time “when a lack of empathy is endemic,” she said, “and hate and bitterness and divisiveness are a part of our public lives.”

“Those small choices now and every day will add up to a lifetime of positive impacts on you, your families, your communities and, yes, the world,” Kimball said. “And that is a guarantee for a bright future and a powerful, positive legacy that every one of you can leave — a legacy of choices of which you can be very proud.”

Grace Lynch, one of two graduating seniors chosen to speak that evening at the LHS football stadium, encouraged her peers to embrace the uncertainties ahead. She also told them to “be kind” to their younger selves, and to realize that past failures and embarrassments are also valuable learning experiences.

“If there’s one thing I hope for every single person in our graduating class, it’s that you stepped outside your comfort zone, that you chose something you knew wouldn’t come easy and that you took that challenge in stride,” Lynch said.

What she didn’t expect in her high school career, she said, was “how many of us grew into our voices.” Many of her peers became activists, Lynch said, seemingly referring to a school year in which students staged walkouts in protest of gun violence, took the knee during marching band performances in protest of racial inequality, and organized an all-day sit-in against bullying and harassment of their transgender classmates.

“Even more of us clarified exactly what it was we believed in. We began to stand up for those around us in school and in the world. We began to initiate hard conversations, because hard conversations initiate change,” Lynch said. “I am beyond proud to say this about our senior class, and beyond proud to say this about the students, faculty and administration who help us foster this growth. Everyone is better for it.”

Brandon Lawrenz, the second graduating senior to speak that night, challenged his classmates to think differently about weakness.

“Weakness is something that we all share in our own ways. However, it is often looked down upon in our society, or treated like a disease,” Lawrenz said. “For me, weakness is what has propelled me to strive in life, to be who I am today.”

Lawrenz was diagnosed with autism at age two, he said, and grew up thinking and speaking differently than everyone else around him. But his parents taught him to view his autism as a blessing, he said, and not a curse.

“Any condition, whether physical or mental, may be a big challenge to overcome. But it’s the battle of the heart that is much bigger than any battle of the brain or the body,” Lawrenz said. “Weakness is what motivates us to become a better person on the inside.”

“I hope you too will cherish weakness and struggles that make you who you are, and embrace the abilities that enable you to shine,” he later added.

Valedictorians honored at Wednesday’s 144th Lawrence High School commencement were: Graham Edmonds, Satori Good, Kiana Hajiarbabi, Caleb Hogan, Jackson Hoy, William Kampa, Leah Marett, Mia Talley, Chloe Thornton and Kacee Truong.


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