Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript of Transylvania County Schools Superintendent Jeff McDaris’s remarks at the district’s June 9 graduation ceremony.
You represent the best and greatest hope for our community and future. Tonight, you are the central focus of academic, community, and family celebration. We are proud of you and the work you have completed to be here. Work that happened in classrooms, on the field, on the court, and on stage. Work that happened in your homes and your community.
And work that happened despite many challenges, some of which you have confronted alone as you persevered on your journey to reach this night of diplomas and accomplishment.
Some of the important parts of your journey from kindergarten to a crowning senior year are similar and with shared experience. Success and friendships build strong fellowship, and your fellowship encourages each other. It is contagious.
What you do, and the many great ways you do what you do, are not unnoticed. Your teachers, your school administration, your fellow classmates, and your family have always been eager to share your stories, and to see them in practice. I’ve been fortunate to share them as well. On the field, the court, art on display, music to our ears, ROTC leadership, club and student council organizational leadership, and tremendous performances in theatre … all wonderful, and only a fraction of the many things this class has done and that you all do.
Your class has talent, character, resilience, and determination.
So now, you are ready to go.
You are ready for to put this rite of passage behind you and seek your future. Your teachers have prepared you as far along as they can. It’s time to go and build upon that.
So, if I may delay the party just a tad longer, I will offer some advice and thoughts from a person who cares. At the top of that list is that you matter. You’ve seen tragedy. Some of you closer than others. So please know that you matter. Seeking help when things seem dark is never wrong.
Every single one of you has a gift and talent that no one has. Maybe you are still discovering it. But it is there. Please never take that from the world. The world needs you and it needs the gift you bring to make it better.
Remember also that kindness goes a long way. Sometimes it isn’t returned. You will see opportunities where it never is. But you are leaders, and leaders should understand that there are times when you may give more than you receive. I believe it pays off in the long run. Those you encounter, the one you work for some day, a customer you help, the co-worker who struggles, the person who annoys you, or talks in a strange way, or looks different. You may never know what demons they are fighting behind sad eyes, or even behind a gallant smile. You may make the difference in someone’s life in a moment of encounter. And kindness is remembered.
More than once at graduation, I mention the importance of life-long learning. Don’t stop learning. It is more than just a road to advancement and prosperity. It is a vital part of the continuous pathway to protecting your freedom and democracy. Your learning doesn’t stop today. Only a foundation is in place. Much of your education begins today. Be involved.
We can only build our communities, our state, and our nation through the commitment, knowledge, and involvement of citizens. Many Americans have fought and died for other Americans to have the freedoms we enjoy. I think we are the greatest nation on earth. But I know that a great nation cannot sustain itself unless informed and involved citizens are willing to do the work needed.
Now, it would be awesome if every one of you stayed or returned to invest in this community. Some of you will. Many of you will not. You will live and thrive somewhere else. But wherever that is, be part of your community. Don’t just live in it. Know it, understand it. Learn about it and its past, and see its potential. Improve it. Make it better.
Some of you will have children of your own one day to send off to begin their schooling just as you did 13 or so years ago. Many of you will have siblings, nieces, nephews, or cousins. All of you have friends. I challenge you to invest time and energy in your community. We need you, and you are our hope.
A final personal aside, if I may. Forty-four years ago, I walked across this very stage and was handed a ticket to the future. It was a Brevard High School diploma. Not everyone can say they have one of those tickets. It was a ticket given to graduates for our future.
I used that ticket, constructed and crafted by the great teachers I had in school growing up here. It was a ticket that opened up many opportunities for a country kid from Transylvania County.
These schools and my teachers gave me the opportunity to use that ticket to start a long and rewarding journey. An important stage of my journey ends with this school year. The diploma I received — that ticket as I call it — will still buy trips on the journey, but this part is ending. I’ve been in school since 1967.
It gives me the greatest honor to walk this stage one final time with you, the great class of 2023. I cannot wait to follow your success, and I know it will be tremendous. In a few minutes you will receive your diploma, that ticket.
Please keep using it. It never expires.