Story, photos & slideshow by Jo Mathis; video by Andrew Cluley
Pioneer High School’s 426 graduates were encouraged Thursday night to savor the moment; take it all in, and find the place that only they can fill in the world.
“You’ve been an intelligent, hard-working class and I am proud to have been a small part of this journey that you have taken,” Principal Tracey Lowder told the graduates gathered at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center.
The keynote speaker was Pioneer English Department Chair Don Packard, who began by congratulating the class for their hard work and to wish them well on whatever their next step will be.
“Someday you’ll find yourself back at Pioneer wandering the halls thinking about the good ole days,” he said, noting that most of all, they’ll remember Pioneer as the place they went from child to adult.
Packard acknowledged the many accomplishments the Class of 2017 has made over the past year, including:
- 16 National Merit semi-finalists
- More than one perfect score on the ACT
- Professional-grade theatrical productions
- Concerto and music concerts, art exhibitions, health sciences rotations, Trailblazers, auto shop, marketing, money management, DECA
- Women’s track state championship; cross country runner-up
- State championship in field hockey three years in a row
- Women’s rowing state title
- Men’s golf heading as a team to the state tournament for the first time since 2009
- First individual state wrestling champion in 37 years
- 43 of 44 Pioneer sports teams finishing in the top 10 in the state this year alone
“What I have the privilege to see, working with you every day, are those realizations you make in that transition from childhood to adult,” said Packard. “Those realizations become the private, personal side of Pioneer and the community that you build and legacy you leave.”
Packard had asked seniors to write about their Pioneer experience, and offered a few examples of what they said:
“I learned to be confident and embrace my mind.”
“I understand I’ll never be popular forever, so the sooner I become inclusive and not exclusive, the sooner people will want to be friends with me.”
“I think that college is gonna be a lot shorter than I thought and that time flies.”
“I will remember Pioneer as where I gained an understanding of my strength, as well as found who I can be.”
“I realized it’s better to be a good person than a good test taker.”
“I learned not to take moments with people for granted.”
“I realized that my actions and how I treat others really matters.”
(Packard noted that that’s why the Class of 2017 elected Donald Armstrong—who has Down syndrome—as homecoming king. Donald stood up and pumped his fist as the crowd applauded.)
Packard also quoted Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
He concluded: “So as you celebrate your high school graduation, and as you’re about ready to leave here with your diploma, take that one-two-three click moment as you’re walking down the stairs, hold each other’s hands and look. Take it all in. This is for you.”
Student speaker Will Brinkerhoff noted that Pioneer High School is full of every kind of student and every kind of person.
“This year especially through a heated political climate and the loss of so many Ann Arbor Public School students, we’ve succeeded despite and because of this rare set of circumstances,” he said, noting that in a strenuous year when unity was tested, listening to each other worked.
“Learning from one another’s story does much more for us as a whole than ignoring our problems and the people who cause them. Let us maintain our rare diversity in all these aspects. Our interests are different; our passions unique, and our goals are diverse.”
He said Pioneer graduates would be shocked to realize how many fellow graduates are strangers. But this past year has shown that Pioneer students are strongest when they share something—whether it’s joy, fear, exhaustion or hope.
“Today is our time to soak it in; to recognize and appreciate our differences; our diversity, our rareness, and the fact that we as young people in this country now hold the power to determine our own futures,” he said.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift said she is proud of the students today, as well as the places they’ll discover and notable achievements they’ll realize.
“You have been impressive in your academic achievement, your art, your athletics and in your notable service to others,” she said. “We are impressed with you. It is abundantly clear to all of us gathered here tonight that you emerge from a mighty and powerful place; the historic Ann Arbor High School. Pioneer High School. And you have tonight exactly everything it takes to find your place unique in all the world.”
The ceremony concluded with the senior members of the Pioneer Choirs leading the class in singing “The Purple and White.”
Staff then congratulated the graduates as they left the arena floor. Parents and friends greeted them on the lawn outside.
Graduates are encouraged to share their photos and thoughts at #PiHiGraduation.