At the top of the Oberlin High School Class of 2017 sit seven valedictorians, each of whom shared words of reflection, advice, wisdom, and encouragement Friday night at Finney Chapel.
FORMOSA DEPPMAN reflected on what it means to be a Phoenix, which in Chinese mythology is a creature worthy of battling a dragon. Oberlin high-schoolers are open to talking about controversial topics and real world problems such as human rights, racial inequality, and violence, she said. While some schools avoid exploring areas of the curriculum that they fear could cause offense, OHS teachers make them classroom talking points. “We aren’t afraid of conflict. We aren’t afraid of differences. We aren’t afraid to face the world for what it is,” said Deppman. Oberlin students are proud of diversity and know the importance of both open discussion and open ears, she said. They push boundaries and fight dragons.
JAKOB FABER said trees cannot grow without the force of gravity pulling them down — a metaphor for embracing challenges. The Class of 2017 was raised in the post-911 landscape, the threat of terrorism always looming. It is also a generation with amazing technology available, enabling instant communication and a wealth of knowledge but offering its own dangers. “I can think of no better generation to meet these challenges than the one that was raised in spite of (them),” Faber said. Today’s graduates inherit a world with much to fix. “You’re all counting on us just as we’ve counted on all of you,” he told parents and teachers. “And I think I speak for everyone when I say we’ll do our absolute best. Probably.”
JULIA GANSON said 2017 commencement exercises represent four years of hard work, and not just in the classroom — also on the sports field, band room, and in the realm of community service. Now that the high school experience has been left behind, she encouraged everyone to find ways to remain engaged in the community — even if it’s something as simple as taking karate classes.
CLAUDIA OLAES said everyone believes they have plenty of time, but in reality time waits for no one: “Please, don’t waste time. It goes by in a blink.” Don’t be afraid to be different, to be the outlier, to take risks. And above all else, Olaes said, help as many people as you can. “Be a Superman. Be a Batman. Be a hero,” she said, later adding. “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time.” Don’t be a dream-crusher. Rather, help others achieve their dreams.
MAYA PETERS said that for the graduates of the Oberlin High School Class of 2017, the biggest tests have not been found in the arenas of math or history or language arts — they have been in resolve and will. She urged fellow graduates to be resilient as they seek success as adults.
ASTA RUSTAD spent her younger years in Norway and moved to Oberlin in the seventh grade. She wasn’t sure what to expect — and was glad to find open arms. Acceptance isn’t a foreign concept in her native country. “It’s not that Norwegians are rude toward strangers, it’s just that we try to avoid them as much as we can,” she joked. The United States has influenced the world in many ways, said Rostad. Some have been positive and some negative. Being friendly to the new kid is among America’s triumphs.
MIRANDA SCHAUM’s mother always told her grades didn’t matter as long as she was trying her hardest. “This ideology has truly resonated with me in every aspect of my life,” she said. Schaum said she learned she doesn’t have to be the perfect, student, friend, daughter, or person — and life became much easier when she understood it’s OK to fail. “We often hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations with little to no room for failure,” she said. “Most times we can’t uphold these wild expectations, leading us to believe we aren’t good enough. I believe this is wrong. It’s all right not to be perfect.”