By Austin McAlister
LCSS 2002 valedictorian
A few years ago, there was a valedictorian, like me, who chose to defy all odds. This man realized that he was something more than what society told him. Something greater. Because in a speech he made running for valedictorian, he chose to put on a cougar suit and give a roar louder than you’ve ever heard. And he was chosen for valedictorian. Let me tell ya, when I heard this, I was taken aback. I had to take a minute, and I began asking myself: “What do the people really want?” Do they want your everyday valedictorian speech, or a roar to shake this entire arena? I had to do some soul searching. And there was a point in which I wanted to quit, to throw in the towel. But after talking with Jeannette, I mean Ms. Gobolos, and her sliding me a fifty under the table, I realized I had been looking at this speech wrong. Too much of my time I had been stressing over whether my roar was worthy to represent this class, when all the people wanted was a speech. And it truly inspired me that Jeannette, I mean Ms. Gobolos, would give up over a third of her paycheck to see this grad class represented. And that is why I am here and proud to say that you are all something special. It is truly so cool to be a part of such a big family that’s grown up together and to be able to hang out with you guys every day. However, the opportunity to hang out every day would not even be possible without the support of a few others.
And for that I want to thank the parents of this grad class. You’ve given us resources and support to persevere through the pressures of life. And as much as we, as a grad class, are eager for independence, we could not even dream of it without having you as stepping-stones. You’ve taught us and shown us the importance of dedication, hard work and the value of relationships. So, for that we thank you. I would also like to thank all the teachers in Williams Lake for being incredible resources on our education journey and for encouraging us along the way. You’ve taught us that money is not the only thing to look for in a job. Living by example, I respect that Jeannette, I mean Ms. Gobolos. The guidance you give stretches so much further than the classroom and it’s made a big impact on your students and grads. To add to that, I would like to thank our administrators for all the work that you do and for keeping our grad class in check. That is no small job. Your devotion to our school and your support of our grad class has made a huge difference for all of us, so thank you. And thank you for making it clear to us which profession to go into to save money on shampoo.
We are so appreciative of all this support and that’s why it comes with pain for me to inform you that we haven’t been the best grad class. We have made mistakes. Academically we are below average. We’ve had one of the lowest number of capstone projects handed in. And some of us stink at driving. But from these mistakes, there are lessons to be learned if we are paying attention. For example, at the start of the year some of us got a little carried away with a TikTok trend. I’m sure our admin could tell you all about it. For some context, early in the year some young hooligans would steal different things from school and post a video on TikTok captioned, “devious lick”. So, of course there were those who felt obligated to take part in such a trend and began taking mirrors, soap dispensers, clocks. I even saw a TikTok of a man walking away with a bathroom stall door. But as funny as those devious licks were, I think we all realized pretty quick that hand soap and bathroom mirrors are kind of handy, and that the mass majority did not actually benefit from their absence. Some also brought up the fact that taking these things without asking constitutes stealing. Not the best idea. Lesson learned.
We had a Water gun fight. And it was good. You guys were good. Some would say too good. But breaking and entering, while clever, is still somewhat illegal. Lesson learned. Some of us felt the need to completely disregard all rules of the road to catch our victim. And that takes determination. But violation of road laws is illegal. Lesson learned.
Now on to the important stuff, Tim Horton’s coffee. At the start of the year some of us didn’t understand the power of Tim Horton’s coffee. And in an honest confession, neither did I. I once failed to see how some of us would believe it’s okay to skip class solely for Tim Horton’s coffee. Lesson learned. I once failed to see how life’s problems could be solved over a Tim Horton’s coffee. Lesson learned. And I once failed to see how one could ever gain by slipping their teacher a Tim Horton’s coffee under the table after failing a test. Lesson learned. Because Tim’s is where we congregate, it fuels us. Some would say it is the backbone of our society. And if you are going to be late for class, you might as well show up another half hour late just to get yourself some Tim’s. Lesson learned.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons throughout our school years. But a lot of the lessons that we take with us through our lives, come from outside the classroom. We learn from our personal experiences and from the people we spend the most time with: parents, family, and friends.
The lessons we learn should be building blocks towards making us better people. There is a reason we were given these lessons and we must choose to take advantage of them by learning and growing from them. A lot of us are eager to get going in life, but we must understand that the world isn’t going anywhere. We still have time to work on ourselves, before taking on life’s big challenges. And this is important.
So, here is my advice…
Embrace the wisdom of your elders. A lot of times we tell ourselves that just because our parents and grandparents did not grow up in our day that somehow, they cannot possibly have insight for us. And maybe we get thrown off by the fact that our parents used to communicate through pigeons and cave paintings rather than text messages. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t experienced some of the same things we do. Don’t get to the stage where you think that you know better or that you have it all figured out. Humble yourself. Accept guidance and insight from those who have gone before you. You are not better than others and should always be willing to learn from those around you. So be intentional about seeking the wisdom that your elders are eager to share.
Secondly, I would encourage you to intentionally surround yourself with good friends. Some that are trustworthy and supportive. Accept you as you are. And help you to be the best you can be. Hopefully you have vision and dreams for the path you want to take in life. And if you do, it is important to make sure that your friends are encouraging you on your journey. Because if you’re not careful, friends may take you in a direction you don’t want to go. And you may think it is your responsibility to change others around you, but at the end of the day, you are responsible for yourself and your personal growth. Surrounding yourself with friends who make you better, will help you achieve the dreams you have. So, if you want to make the world a better place you must start with yourself, and make sure that you have great friends.
And finally learn from your mistakes. We’ve had a good 17-18 years of making mistakes and let’s be honest, there are plenty more to come. The thing you need to realize is mistakes are not the end, they are the beginning. The beginning of a new and revitalized you. A teaching moment. A lesson learned. We won’t always get it right, but we can get back up and try a second time. But if you do not learn from your mistakes, you will continue to repeat them. The times you fail can make you stronger if you let them. Be open and ready to learn from your mistakes as you walk throughout life.
So, as we go into this world as official graduates, don’t even think about leaving behind your cougar suit. And I know that we are all falcons and whatever, but I ain’t never heard a falcon roar without a cougar suit on. So, put that suit on and let out that roar you’ve been holding in for so long. There are many exciting adventures ahead, but thoughts of the future may also make us feel overwhelmed and unprepared. Yet, if we were paying attention to the first portion of our lives, we should know that we have been equipped with the tools to handle everything that comes our way. So, let’s be bold, let’s respect our elders, let’s surround ourselves with good friends and let’s always be willing to learn from our mistakes. These things will prepare us for the challenges ahead. Lesson learned.