On Friday, June 23, the Byron-Bergen Class of 2023 crossed the stage at Roberts Wesleyan’s Hale Auditorium and into the next chapter of their lives. Amidst the cheers of their friends and families, the graduates were recognized for their years of hard work and welcomed to the ranks of proud Byron-Bergen alumni. Although the graduates were not promised an easy ride, the mantra that echoed through the auditorium was “perseverance”.
A traditional rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance” by Edward Elgar, performed by the Byron-Bergen High School Concert Band under the direction of High School Music Teacher Kevin Bleiler, provided the ambiance for the practical but optimistic ceremony. Jr./Sr. High School Principal Ashley John Grillo welcomed family, friends, and faculty present at the ceremony.
“You are a big part of the success we celebrate today,” said Grillo. Grillo enumerated some of the many accomplishments to which the seniors contributed including varsity athletic championships, the show-stopping spring musical “Hairspray”, and notable achievements for academic teams and clubs. Grillo then encouraged the graduates to take risks and never stop striving for their goals. “Move on to what is next. Choose your adventure. Don't be afraid to fail.”
Byron-Bergen Superintendent Pat McGee took to the stage with a personal message for each student. “I have known you for four years as principal and two years as superintendent,” said McGee. “I will miss your honest feedback, side conversations, and informal hallway check-ins. You will be missed.”
He then recited a poem by American author Shel Silverstein:
Listen to the Mustn’ts, listen to Don’t.
Listen to the Shouldn'ts, the Impossibles, the Won'ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child,
Anything can be.
This sentiment was reinforced by Salutatorian Zoey Shepard. “I didn’t want to talk about COVID today,” said Shepard. “We are collectively a pretty challenging class, but the pandemic made us stronger.” She went on to tell her classmates to make sure they are happy and to work hard, have fun, and always stand tall.
The graduating members of the Singing Silhouettes, under the direction of High School Music Teacher Joseph Paris, performed “Vienna” by Billy Joel. The arrangement featured a series of short duets allowing each member to shine. “But you know that when the truth is told, that you can get what you want or you can just get old,” sang the young musicians, with the dedication of those ready to work for their goals.
Then, invoking the iconic lyrics of American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, Valedictorian Kendall Phillips said, “Everyone is unique. Everyone has their quirks. ‘Haters gonna hate’ but we have a wonderful support system back home.”
“Being kind is so important,” said Phillips. “It’s such a simple thing, but a powerful thing. It can change the course of someone's day or even life.”
The diplomas were conferred by Board of Education President Debra List and the Class of 2023 tossed their mortarboards into the air. The collective congregation rallied around the graduates and, for that moment, blocked out the Mustn’t and the Don’t, the Impossibles and Won’ts.
The graduates move on from high school knowing that they have weathered personal and global challenges and they are ready for what comes next. Haters gonna hate, but anything can happen. Anything can be.