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Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center was the setting Thursday night for Pioneer High School’s 50th commencement ceremony, where 430 graduates received their diplomas.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift told the students that no one else can fill the one place where the world has gaps shaped just like them, and that those open spaces are waiting for their arrivals.
“In celebrating each of you this evening, we honor your individual stories, we see you and we hear your important voices,” she said. “We honor the unique journey each of you has taken, the challenges you have overcome to arrive to this evening, and this milestone achievement.”
The commencement address was presented by counselor Colleen Creal, who—as PHS class president— gave the commencement address 34 years ago at Crisler Arena.
Comparing her 1984 yearbook with the current one, she said it is obvious that more students today have found a purpose in life, and are standing up for what’s right and speaking out for what they want to change.
“I witnessed walk outs for gun safety, anti bullying campaigns, sexual assault symposiums, an LGBTQ day of silence, mental health awareness campaigns, immigrant support groups, and just this last month students were collecting hygiene products for the homeless,” she said. “This class has students who are a part of Positive Peer Influence (PPI). They assist other students at Pioneer who might be struggling with family or school issues. This class has a Peer 2 Peer group whose mission is to identify students who are dealing with mental health issues – members of this group support these students and they make sure they get the help they need.
Creal said the biggest change she’s seen at Pioneer in the last 30 years is the inclusiveness of students with special needs.
“I had the pleasure of judging this year’s Polar Plunge at the Big House,” she said. “No school was louder or prouder than Pioneer High School with over 100 kids signed up to jump in that freezing cold pool to support the Special Olympics! We embrace and celebrate kids who are different.”
Graduate Emma Roth also delivered a powerful address, reminding her fellow graduates that they are no longer speechless.
“We have a voice, cultivated and cultured inside purple walls and out, by Superman and a good number of Wonder Women,” she said. “We have a voice, evident in every shared spark of wildness and wiring, every world championship, every recorded album, every record set, every time we are brave enough to get out of bed on cold Michigan mornings and hold up our heads against what’s rainy and repulsive in the world.”
She said their voices are audible in auditoriums and earbuds, poetry slams, polar plunge, protests, whispered bus stop conversations and basketball courts, club meetings, constitutions, and crazy ideas—despite what may try to silence them.
“The point is,” she said, “we can be scared, but we can be strong and we can speak … Whether you study science or sculpture, whether you drive buses or businesses, whether you’re backstage or on it, you have a voice. And no matter what, there is power in your voice. Whether a still growing whisper or a deafening cry, your voice has the power to help, to heal, to bring hope and justice for each other. Whether with simple kind words or sizzling soliloquies, you have the power to create change, to be the good, to be the love in the world.”
After acknowledging the many academic achievements of the Class of 2018, Principal Tracey Lowder asked students to stand if they had worked with students with disabilities. He said the class of 2018 is an unselfish group who have paved the way for future students to be able to stand up for their beliefs.
School Board President Christine Stead reminded the graduates that their parents, guardians, teachers, counselors, staff, friends comprise an all important “home team.”
“And that’s who you need to keep close when things get tough,” she said. “That’s the difference between learning a lesson once or having to learn it again and again. And our best wish for you is that each of you grows a very strong home team from the one you have today. Best of luck. Be bold. Be brave. And keep making us proud.”