This year, I had the opportunity and the honor to address the graduating fifth grade class
in a ceremony held before family and supporters in the North Middle School auditorium.
While I am not certain what the presentation sounded like,
my speech to the attending audience and graduates follows:
When Cecil Floyd Elementary School began the 2013/4 school year, we started with a theme: Super Citizens. All kinds of decorations and activities have revolved around a superhero motif…and that is only fitting regarding these fifth graders. They truly are, and have been, super. Personally speaking, this class holds some of the most memorable, meaningful, and lovable students I have ever encountered.
It is fitting that we end this year as we began: Superman, arguably the most complete of the superheroes, still finds challenge in his life. Perhaps we have felt the same way. Recording artists, Five for Fighting, read Superman’s candid thoughts, singing:
Like Superman and his super villains, a certain boy understood the concept of overcoming difficult, super obstacles. He bragged, “Dad, l pulled this cornstalk up all by myself.” His dad said, “What a strong boy!” The boy replied, “Sure. The whole world had hold of the other end.”
But now, elementary school is over. It’s through. Done. Finished. Ended. Complete. With another day and a half of classes, these students will move forward, and the next great obstacle, middle school, looms ahead.
In just a day and a half, these super citizens will enter a new period in their lives, with new horizons in their windshields and new challenges in their paths. This ceremony marks a milestone, because on Friday, Cecil Floyd Elementary will sit in their rear view mirrors as these Eagles – our Eagles – leave the nest.
What lies ahead, you ask? Will you achieve victory or will you suffer failure? Disappointment or celebration? Simplicity or struggle? Popularity or obscurity? Wealth or dearth? Loneliness or love? The answer, of course, is yes. You will fail, and you will achieve. You will experience growth, and you will have growing pains. You will lose, and you will win.
In 1987, the pilot of a commuter plane, flying from Portland Maine to Boston, Massachusetts, left the cockpit to investigate an unusual sound in the rear of the aircraft. As he reached the tail section, the plane struck some turbulence, and pilot Henry Dempsey was thrown against the rear door, where he quickly discovered the source of the strange noise: the door was not properly latched. When he was tossed into the door, the door flew open, and Dempsey was unexpectedly sucked out of the airplane.
The copilot, seeing a red light that indicated a door was open, turned the plane to make an emergency landing. He radioed a request for a helicopter to scour the ocean to search for the pilot who had fallen from the plane.
After landing, they found Henry Dempsey – holding on to the ladder, hanging upside down on the steps attached to the open door. After riding in that position, flying at 200 miles per hour at an altitude of 4,000 feet, Dempsey’s head missed the runway by 12 inches in the landing. It took several minutes for the emergency crew to pry his fingers from the steps.
It’s a true story, and it’s message is also true: things in life may feel turbulent at times, and sometimes you just have to hold on and keep flying.
I want to speak for all the staff and volunteers at our school when I tell you that you belong to all of us. While your parents look at you with pride, so do we. From the adults at Cecil Floyd who have had a role in your growth and maturity, and from those teachers who moved on before getting to see you tonight, you are and forever will be a part of us. You are, and will always, be Cecil Floyd.
When your name in announced, on that spring day in 2021, and you parade across that stage to receive your high school diploma, we will mark that moment with you. We will beam with pride (For some, perhaps we will even be pleasantly surprised.)…because we were there during those moments that you did not achieve, when you fell on the playground, when failed an assignment.
We saw you when you lounged through a lesson, when you stuttered through stories, when you ignored a rule, and when you were less than complimentary to your classmate. We noticed when you failed to return your homework (or when your parents did your work for you). We noticed when you forgot to wash your hands. We heard you sing off-key, we saw you color outside the lines, and we struggled to read your writing. We noticed when you tried to be the class clown, the hallway hipster, or the cafeteria cut-up. But we forgave you. We forgive you.
We forgive you because we understand how much you have grown since the moment we met. We have seen you become more thoughtful, more knowledgeable, more compassionate, and more assertive.
We wish we could have done more for you in the first years of your education. And that wish underscores our overall desire for you during the rest of your school years: what we truly want for you is for you to…
Grow up! Follow your dreams. Decide to be successful. Don’t let up, slow down, back off, or sit still. Be finished with foolish ways. Do more than speak for what is right; speak against what is wrong. Stand against compromising truth, tolerating gossip, and flirting with doing things just because “everyone else is doing them”. Our world is full of problems, and you can make a difference.
You’re not all you ought to be, what you want to be, or what you are going to be; but you are not what you used to be. You know things you didn’t used to know. You can do things you couldn’t do before.
Grow up! Be finished with low living, backward walking, blind eyes, tender feet, lazy hands, deaf ears, empty words, and miniature goals. Stop being normal. Never fear being unique and original. Embrace creative ingenuity.
Refuse to believe that middle school will be full of drama and meanness, and that’s just how things will always be. You know that people can be good, that love still refreshes, that life can be positive, and that happiness is still something to be pursued.
Grow up! Stop doubting yourself. Be curious. Search for impossible solutions to everyday problems. Explore broken issues that have existed for years. Learn from unpleasant situations. Don’t accept that some things can never be fixed.
Your pace is set, and your goal extends beyond graduation. Your way may be rough and uncertain, but your mission is clear. There is no way to college and career but through your own education and effort.
Grow up! Humbly approach others with compassion and empathy. Serve others, expecting nothing in return. Expect positive outcomes. You must not be bought, trapped, deterred, lured away, turned back, watered down, or delayed. Our world is at stake, and people deserve better.
Do not flinch in the face of lies, hesitate in the presence of error, negotiate with naysayers, or pander to the popular. Don’t give up, back up, let up, or shut up until you have learned up, stored up, built up, and grown u Grow up! You are college bound; you are super citizens; you are a Joplin Eagle! You must go until the final dismissal bell rings, serve until you drop, study until you discover, and work until you graduate. And when you graduate you will hold up your head among your peers, with pride, and continue to improve your life and benefit the lives of others around you.
You are Eagles. You will SOAR as lifelong, innovative thinkers who are compassionate, productive citizens. You represent everything Eagles should.
We love you. We're here if you need us. Now grow up, and live your life!
This morning's interview on KODE is online:
Good Morning Four States.
I will appear on Thursday's Good Morning Four States, early in the six o'clock hour (That's A.M., people!). If you can't sleep and don't have a good book to read, tune in to see my live interview with Alan Matthews. Good Morning Four States airs on KODE, channel 12 in the Joplin, Missouri, area.
A real and present concern following the 2011 EF5 tornado in Joplin, Missouri (or any other place that such a storm has attacked), was tire damage. Cars and trucks certainly experienced tire issues, as the tornado did not stack its prey neatly on the sides of the road. The pictures above are of thicker treads, which were no less vulnerable than standard car tires. The characters in Out of the Wind were concerned with their own tires.
D. Ed. Hoggatt is an award-winning fourth grade teacher, teaching in Oklahoma City during the terrorist bombing of 1995, and in Joplin, Missouri, during the tornado and recovery of 2011.
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