Appreciation, inspiration, and perspiration were part of graduation Friday for the 82-member Oberlin High School Class of 2016.
The appreciation was expressed by graduates for parents teachers and Oberlin. The inspiration was from keynote speaker Hugh Thornton. The perspiration was due to the hot, stuffy conditions at Finney Chapel that had some of the roughly 500 audience members fanning themselves with programs throughout the approximately 90-minute commencement.
Fayza Rahman, student council president, thanked parents: “You are the reason behind our happiness, our sanity, our good looks, (and) our academic success,” she said.
Valedictorian Hannah McNulty was among those thanking school staff for providing guidance and support. “Your patience and love for learning is a huge part of what makes Oberlin special,” she said.
Fellow valedictorian Julia Elrod saluted staff members for their quirky way of making learning fun. She recalled principal William Baylis passing out bacon duct tape in the cafeteria and science teacher and senior class adviser Ron Bier incorporating Beyonce and Jay Z references into chemistry lessons. She also thanked basketball coach and history teacher Kurt Russell for a lecture on the Great Compromise — a 1787 agreement on a dual system of congressional representation — which he presented entirely in song.
“Take that passion that you’ve learned from your teachers at Oberlin High School and use it to do something great,” Elrod told classmates.
Valedictorian Iris Arbogast said a year each studying in China and Guyana gave her greater appreciation of Oberlin. She said the academic and cultural opportunities offered in the community and the smaller student-to-teacher ratio at the high school aren’t available everywhere.
“We’re luckier than we think we are,” she said. “I want to thank the teachers, staff, and community that make Oberlin what it is. It has also made us who were are: the proud Class of 2016.”
Thornton, a Class of 2009 graduate and Indianapolis Colts offensive guard since 2013, touched on his struggles and successes.
He recalled growing up in Idaho and Oberlin before moving to Jamaica where his mother and sister were fatally stabbed in 2004. He spoke of spending time afterward in foster care in Boise because couldn’t get along with his father and moving back to Oberlin for his senior year where he excelled in football and wrestling.
Thornton said he was “blessed, privileged, and humbled” to be asked to speak at the commencement, something he never thought possible. “I’m sure most of my teachers thought the same thing,” he joked.
Thornton said graduates would face tough times and challenged them to persevere through hard work, preparedness, and positivity. He said the graduates have “endless potential,” but it doesn’t guarantee success.
True success comes from not settling for less, he said.
“Do you just want to survive or do you want to flourish?” he asked. “Never lose the mentality that better is possible and good is not enough.”
Baylis thanked the 154th graduating class for its academic, artistic, and athletic achievements, which he said were due to hard work and talent.
And he referenced heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali’s 1964 quote after upsetting Sonny Liston: “I’m confident that our graduates will one day be able to say in the famous words of Muhammad Ali, ‘I shook up the world,’” Baylis said of Ali who died later Friday night at 74.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Hugh Thornton, who attended Oberlin, urges graduates of the Class of 2016 to never stop short of their full potential.