Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Video by Andrew Cluley/Communications Director
During Thursday’s commencement at Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center, Ann Arbor Pioneer High School’s Class of 2019 were reminded that they will forever be Pioneers—meaning they should continue to live up to the school’s motto to be bold and extraordinary.
School Board President Harmony Mitchell reminded the class that they are wearing the color of royalty.
“Do you understand that?” she asked, to applause.
“My only charge to you as you leave here tonight is to continue to be a Pioneer,” she said. “Lay the foundation. Be a trailblazer. Set the world on fire. Continue to be a Pioneer.”
Keynote speaker was Brent Richards, a 1992 Pioneer graduate who has been teaching (mostly history, but now philosophy and law) at Pioneer since 2002.
Richards told the students that they can choose to look at their classmates as others, but if they are ambitious and open-minded, they can look around in wonder and wholly embrace the stories of fellow classmates.
“Because you recognize that each person seated with you on that floor—no matter their story—serves as an ingredient to the recipe that is your senior class,” he said. “You are the Pioneer Class of 2019 and no matter how anyone else chooses to perceive you, you will always have at least one very important thing in common with all of your classmates. Something in common that will never change. Tonight, in a nation hailing with division, where something in common is not part of our political word bank, you are here; celebrating the same thing. Clad in purple and white, bonded together as one.”
But while the night was about them, he said, it wasn’t only about them.
“Though we may be the center of our own universes, the stars in our own movies, nothing is solely about any one person,” Richards said. “Living in an era of hashtags, twitters, and selfies—and maybe even finstas—we naturally default to our own personal vantage points that tend to make us see things only from our own individual perspectives. And from these points of view, we often feel so certain about what we are seeing that we neither question or listen to those who have something different to say.”
While this form of individualism exists to some degree in all of us because it’s the easiest, laziest way to see the world, he said, if we’re not careful, it makes us ignorant, suspicious and likely arrogant.
Americans and many others around the world are presently having dialogue that resembles more of a shouting match, yet nobody is getting heard, he said.
“Ask yourself: How did this come to be? And more importantly, how can we change it before we totally sacrifice so many of the very principles that this nation was founded on?”
The answer, he said, lies very much with the graduates; the same people he sees in the hallways and Room C215 every day; the people who—through their stories and shared points of view—impart wisdom on him every day about life, listening and empathizing. “Your stories as I’ve known them have often been utterly amazing, sometimes tragic and frequently inspiring, sometimes all at once,” he said.
Richards asked the students to fight against division, spitefulness, and hate. Get involved, he said, before asking them to find a cause, befriend someone who is remarkably different from them, put down their phones and talk to each other face to face.
When he said some of the students would remember when his mother passed away suddenly two years ago, he had to pause to hold back tears. Then he expressed gratitude that the students were there for him.
Take nothing for granted, he said, because another day is promised to no one.
During the senior address, graduate Sampoorna Ravikanth told of a recent English class assignment to write to someone who inspired her.
So she wrote to Pioneer High School—and read it to the crowd.
The letter described how the graduates evolved from anxious, fumbling ninth graders to students who found community in so many of the school’s activities, programs, and causes.
“Pioneer found a way to support each one of us as we made this school our own,” she said.
“So as we walk out these doors at the end of four years I can confidently say that we are finally prepared,” she said. “Prepared to leave this school and conquer everything and anything that’s thrown our way.”
“So thank you for teaching us what it means to forever be bold, be extraordinary, and be a pioneer.”
Principal Tracey Lowder spoke with pride of the ways Pioneer’s Class of 2019 is extraordinary (325 of the 446 graduates have GPAs of 3.00 or higher and 127 are above 3.75. or higher). He reminded them that they join an elite group of alum—some of whom are known world-wide.
“We have an incredible alumni base that is out there in the world doing incredible things each and every day and you are about to join them,” he said.