Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
The Skyline High School Stadium was the setting for the school’s 10th annual commencement ceremony Monday evening, with diplomas awarded to 330 graduates.
As the sun began to set during the 75-minute event, views from both the field and the stands took in the expansive horizon, emblematic of the school’s name.
In his keynote address to the students, math teacher Jeff Oleksinski acknowledged that their senior year was hard.
There have been sports, clubs, birthday parties, vacations, weddings, and many other events canceled, rescheduled, done over Zoom or perhaps completely forgotten about, he said, adding that completing high school under these circumstances is truly an excellent accomplishment.
At the same time, he said, the year included some bright spots.
“I met more of my students’ pets this year than in all my other 18 years of teaching,” he said, giving a shout out to Paisley and Oliver, two dogs who would regularly attend his AP Calculus class.
He said students joined his Zoom class meetings from many different locations including work, while traveling, and at the barbershop.
One thing that has become very clear during the last year, he said, is the importance of family and community connections—a fact long supported by research that shows people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, physically healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected.
Oleksinski said he hopes that as the graduates go out and meet new people, they consider the importance of the connections they form and people they choose to be around.
“Find a community that accepts you for who you are and allows you space to be open, honest, and vulnerable,” he said. “Find a community of people who are kind, thoughtful about others, and value and celebrate diversity. Also, try new things that benefit you and your community. Then when you try something new and it does not go as planned, acknowledge it, but do not stay there. Learn from it, and try again. I think the late Maya Angelou said it best: `Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’”
Oleksinski asked that the class care of themselves and each other physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Hello fellow graduates! It is such an honor being able to stand here before you all on one of the most memorable days of our lives. I want to thank all of my friends, family, and teachers who have made this day possible for me. These past 4 years have been a truly unforgettable journey for the class of 2021. It’s hard to believe that after today we’ll all split our separate ways, since it seems like only yesterday we were little freshmen struggling to distinguish the A hallway from the C. Now we stand here as seniors, ready to graduate and mark our presence on the world. Yet, on this momentous occasion, we can’t help but look back at the memories made with our friends, time spent developing our passions, and lessons learned in our favorite classes.
High School has truly been a struggle, but it was the little moments every day at Skyline that made it all bearable, like watching Ms. Ducker salsa dance with her son first thing in the morning on zoom, cooking waffles for all of Skytime with Mr. Park, or even going to see Just Mercy together with Ms. Sietz, Ms. Ray, and the rest of AP Lang. I for one cherish all the time I spent in History class, choosing to lose myself in the dilemmas of our predecessors in an effort to escape my own, but I never thought that one day our dilemmas too would be projected in history books, and that our lives would become APUSH prompts just waiting for the future generations to dissect. However, how we choose to move forward and rebuild ourselves in the time to come is what will set us apart from those who came before us.
With our passions and dreams, we all are well equipped to mold the world into a better place. Let me prove it to you. Some of you may remember this from my previous speeches, but for one last time, I want everyone to make as much noise as possible. Do you all hear this? This is the power of the Class of 2021 and the impact we’ll have on every single community we interact with. We have powerful visions for the future and it all started here at Skyline. We’ve taken the skills and knowledge we gained from our classes and channeled them to tackle climate change, end gerrymandering, publish research papers, provide accessible SAT prep and tutoring resources for ann arbor youth, engage in entrepreneurial ventures, and so much more. When we saw problems we were passionate about, we didn’t just sit back and watch, no, we found proactive solutions that helped to build our community. We didn’t wait for time to change things, we changed them ourselves. We didn’t give up hope amongst adversity, if anything it strengthened our drive and motivation to reshape our communities. Our actions in these times helped us inspire each other to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.
We need to continue to bring forth this same desire to propel society to new heights and continue to step outside our comfort zone to fight against injustices. Looking at history, great things never came from comfort zones, so if at first we fail, we shouldn’t let that discourage us. Some of the most beloved products today stemmed from failure. Take Thomas Edison for example. His teachers had said he was too stupid to learn anything, his employer fired him for being unproductive, and he failed 1,000 times in inventing the light bulb, but because he never gave up on this invention, he was able to create one of the most essential products to society. In the same way, we should never let the fear of failure keep up from achieving our dreams and advocating for innovation. I am confident that every single person in our class will go on to achieve success in their endeavors. And finally today we close the door behind us on this chapter of our lives.
Everyone in this room has worked so hard to get here, and I’m so proud of you all. Experiencing a global pandemic, the storming of the capital, hate crimes on our Black and Asian communities, and now the systemic oppression of Palestinians and rising Antisemitism would be enough to shatter the spirit of any normal class. But we aren’t just any normal class. We all had the strength to keep pushing forward despite having every obstacle placed in front of us. We were able to find opportunities for growth despite being surrounded by loss. We were able to muster compassion for others despite the world having none for many of us. We did all this so that we could be present today adorned in our cap and gowns, ready to graduate and start paving our way through the world.
We’ve had too many lasts this year: our last day of school, last time seeing our teachers and classmates, and our last goodbye, but they’ve all opened us up to a year of firsts. First day of college, first-time voting, first job and so many more. But just because we’re leaving doesn’t mean we have to forget about everything we’ve experienced within the walls of Skyline. We will always be together in our hearts and in our souls because we are more than just a normal class. We are a family.