Belpre seniors graduate

BRETT DUNLAP Special to the Times Belpre High School senior Haileigh Boice gets the cap straightened for her classmate Kaitlin Richards before the graduation ceremony Sunday for the Belpre High School Class of 2019. Belpre had 70 candidates for graduation.

BELPRE — There will be a number of four-letter words that will serve the graduating seniors of Belpre High School well into the future, the former superintendent told those assembled Sunday for commencement.

Former Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn was the commencement speaker for graduation ceremonies for the 70 graduation candidates of Belpre High School’s Class of 2019.

In a career in education that spanned over 32 years, Dunn attended a lot of graduation ceremonies, but this was the first where he delivered the commencement address.

“I want to share some things that I hope will be useful in some ways,” he said.

Dunn spoke of when he and his wife, Angela, first came to Belpre in May 2011 and this senior class was in the fourth grade. He, along with the rest of the community, have watched them grow into the capable young men and women they are today.

“Now that you are adults, there are some four-letter words you should master and hold very dear,” Dunn said.

Words like “work,” “fail,” “give,” “time,” “hope,” “love” and “tree” were examples Dunn spoke about in how the graduates need to look at the road before them and where they want to go in life.

Many people associate “work” with unpleasant things many have to do to be able to earn a living.

“I will challenge you to consider work as something more than we are required to do, but something we must do in order to satisfy some desire we have to accomplish something,” Dunn said. “Work should be seen as the effort we put in an action, not because someone dictates we do it, but because we are compelled to do it to satisfy ourselves.

“Most of good work you do in your life will never earn you a cent, but will enrich you and those around you and provide meaning and contentment to you. Work hard in all you do and success will find you. Just don’t limit your definition of success or work.”

Many people feel the need to protect their kids from failure because they feel it will damage them. Self-esteem comes from genuine success, not contrived success.

“Meaningful growth as humans requires both success and failure,” Dunn said. “Failure can provide meaningful feedback that we can use on our way to success.”

Hunter Gilbert, the Washington County Career Center Valedictorian, reiterated that point as he thanked his classmates for their support and the educators who taught him.

“Two of the most important lessons I have learned is to step outside my comfort zone and do what makes you happy,” he said. “The risk is always scary, but you never know where it will take you.

“Taking the leap of faith may not always go as planned. Even in failure, you have the satisfaction that you did your best and can get back up to be a better person in the future.”

To “give” is something this class understands well. Dunn recalls this class, as fourth graders, raised $5,000 for the Washington County Relay For Life, donating that money to the American Cancer Society.

“That accomplishment astounded me then, but does not surprise me now,” Dunn said. “Giving is simply a part of life around here and I am always delighted with how this community steps up and helps in times of need.

“When it comes to giving, it doesn’t have to be monetary for it to matter. Giving of your time, your expertise and yourselves means just as much as a monetary gift.”

Dunn said it was important to give back to your community in a variety of ways.

“I believe you can only have a rich life by giving to others freely,” he said.

As people get older, “time” seems to go by faster and faster, Dunn said adding there will always be demands for a certain amount of people’s time

“The vast majority of how we use our time is decided by us,” he said. “How we use that time defines us as humans and shapes the world around us.

“A small change can make much bigger changes happen.”

Many people mistake “hope” for wishful thinking, but it is the belief that tomorrow will be better than today.

“It is a sense of comfort that you can have a positive effect on your future,” Dunn said. “It is knowing that you are in control of your own destiny.

“Hope is knowing that just about anything is possible.”

“Love” is wanting happiness and success for others, even at your own expense.

“It is about caring for others more than you care for yourself,” Dunn said. “Love is about appreciation and dedication to things more important than your personal success.

“The more you give, the more you get in return. It is a nice gift to receive.”

Belpre Valedictorian Ryleigh Barrett said many people have families who supported them throughout their lives. Barrett talked about being raised by a single mother and how that shaped her.

“I would like to offer some advice to our class,” she said. “That advice would be to take advantage of our youth. Let’s not take our time on this earth for granted. While our education is important, let’s live our lives first.”

Although “tree” might seem like a strange word to end on, Dunn said he has been fascinated with trees all his life. There are trees that have lived for more than a thousand years, like some of the Sequoias of the Pacific Northwest. Some have grown to over 300 feet tall but only have roots that go down about six feet or less.

“You may wonder how they can support a large tree,” Dunn said. “The secret is all the surrounding Sequoia intertwine their roots and the resulting structure holds them all up.

“They all stand because of the support they give one another. What a great model for all of us. What if we all supported each other like the Sequoias.”

Belpre Salutatorian Halle Richards said true success comes when people examine what matters. Professional success can become meaningless unless you have someone to share it with, the people who support you and who you support, she said.

“I have found that success is doing what you love every day,” she said. “It is finding happiness in the small things.

“It is surrounding yourself with people you love and love you back. I have been blessed to be surrounded by many people who love and support me.”

Many of the students have gone through their entire school careers with each other and have provided that kind of support to their fellow classmates, Dunn said.

“Graduation is an exciting time,” he said. “With every ending, there is a beginning.

“Now is that time to start that next chapter in your lives and we can’t wait to see where it will take you. Just remember to be the roots that support each other as you go your separate ways.”