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Never Stop: Hashtags, Teenagers and our Amazing Tigers

Remarks Presented at the Commencement of Shead High School’s Class of 2016

Originally Published: 13 June 2016

Thank you, for that overly kind introduction.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to you all tonight, even if some of you are not thrilled to have to listen to me. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. It is the nature of the beast. Tonight is supposed to be about the young men and women behind me, yet for some reason, we insist on having some old person like me drone on in front of them before we award them their diplomas.

We all know what is coming. I am going to talk about how I am not going talk for very long, then I am going to talk for what feels like an eternity. I may even talk until you hear the phrase, “Oh dear spirits above please, just end it now,” running through your minds, over and over. Some of you may already be there now. Still, before we get to the joy of hearing these students’ names called to officially add them to the list of Shead High School alumni, I am also going to give advice that few if any of us in this gymnasium, will remember or heed.

Why bother? Why not just stop now?

Well, while we are constrained by custom, through language we have the infinite freedom to innovate within these constraints. Even with our long human history, the odds are good that the words that I am about to utter have never been spoken in the exact order that you are about to hear them. Custom constrains us, but language frees us, and the remarkable young men and women behind me richly deserve to be celebrated before we award them their diplomas, and their freedom from high school, tonight.

To begin this celebration, in what may seem like an odd place, I will start with hashtags. I didn’t really know much about hashtags until I had the opportunity to travel around our great state attending professional development events during the past year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with hashtags, they are what we used to call the number or pound sign added to the front of a string of letters, numbers or other characters.

During these professional development sessions, they would constantly be reminding us of the hashtags to use for the day. #CTOY2015 #MAINETOY #EDCHATME #ECET2ME. Quite frankly, it seemed a little ridiculous to me. Why are these people using this strange language? Are they really that desperate to promote this event? Then, Dan Ryder, an amazing teacher from Mt. Blue High School explained hashtags to me. The brilliance of hashtags is that they allow people to connect with one another. By stringing these small numbers of characters together, individuals are able to share their experiences almost instantly across time and space. By searching the hashtags I mentioned previously on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or even in Google, I was able to relive my experiences or view these experiences from other perspectives.

Tonight is an important night in the life of our community, and as a result, I want to make sure that we have some hashtags identified so that we can share our experience of celebrating the accomplishments of the amazing young people behind me on the stage. So, for those of you who are using social media as part of your celebration tonight, our hashtags are #Classof2016, #SheadHS, #letsgoyoutigers, #EastportME and, finally, #neverstop, which we will get to in a few moments.

While hashtags and social media are completely foreign to some of us in this room, the wonderful young people on the stage behind me have literally grown up with social media. Facebook was released to the world when they were 6, Twitter when they were 8, Instagram when they were 12, Snapchat when they were 13. According to Pew Research Center, “24% of teens go online ‘almost constantly,’ facilitated by the widespread availability of smartphones.” 92% of teens go online daily, 71% of teens use Facebook, and 71% of teens use more than one social network site with 52% using Instagram and 41% using Snapchat. The young people behind me have grown up in a world very different than the world that most of us inhabited as a youth, and the pace of change in our world continues to quicken.

As a result of these changes, these young people have had to fight not just the typical stereotypes associated with teenagers, you know, that teenagers are lazy, that they have no respect for their elders, that they have awful taste in music, that they dress inappropriately, that they only care about themselves, and that they are always up to no good, but they have also had to confront new stereotypes including that they are all addicted to social media, that all they do is take selfies all day, and that they would not last a day without their phones. Well, while some of the young people behind me may enjoy connecting with others through social media and might look at their phones more often than they probably should, I can emphatically state that all of these negative stereotypes about teens do not apply to Shead High School’s graduating class of 2016.

During their four years at Shead High School, the young people behind me have made tremendous contributions to this school and to the community at large. They have excelled academically, athletically and artistically, and they are leaving Shead High School and our community better than they found it.

In terms of academics, 100% of the young people behind are graduating with a post-secondary plan for further schooling or employment. While they were aided in the process of developing their plans through the support of the MELMAC Foundation, their dedicated guidance counselor Leah McLean, Tara Poole, and her JMG course, and the many teachers and volunteers who accompanied them on college and career field trips, these young people wisely took full advantage of their opportunities to explore and select a path that works for them. Furthermore, they brought home four trophies from this year’s JMG’s statewide Career Development Conference including a first place trophy for the best job interview with an actual CEO and a second place trophy for a Marketplace Presentation in which they designed a theme, visual aide and tabletop presentation and presented it to judges.

Athletically, the young people behind me led Boys and Girls Soccer Teams, Boys and Girls Soccer Teams and Baseball and Softball teams that combined for a 72-29-1 record. That’s a winning percentage of 70%. How is that for the class of 70%, Tyler Mitchell? They lead these teams to 2 DAC Championships, and three 3 Northern Maine Quarterfinals appearances and baseball and softball have not even competed in the playoffs yet. We haven’t even talked about golf or cross county, Oh, and of course, these seniors helped lead the Girls Basketball team to the Northern Maine Championship and finished as state-runner ups.

Artistically, the class behind me lead a cast of 14 in 2 productions of Alan Haehnel’s “Caution: Politricks” at the high school and another production at the Eastern Regional of the Maine Drama Festival at MDI. This class led the Jazz Band at the District 6 High School Jazz Festival at MDI in February and performed well enough to earn a trip to the State Instrumental Jazz Festival at South Portland High School in March. They led a pep band that rocked the Northern Regional Basketball tournament in Bangor causing a reporter to remark, “They may be from a small school, but they have a big sound. Shead High School’s pep band sure can rock.” They also contributed to beautifying our school with the addition of two new murals in our upstairs hallway.

While all of these accomplishments are fantastic, they only did these things because they care about themselves, right? I mean, they’re teenagers didn’t actually do anything to help others. Well, actually, the students on the stage behind you enrolled in JMG joined their peers in averaging between 15 and 20 hours of community service…each. Through JMG they contributed $1,000 to the Labor of Love Food Pantry, $1,000 to Greenland Point Center and $1,000 to Make-a-Wish Maine. Over the course of three years, they also created and have participated in 3 Gaming Marathon fundraisers that have raised over $4,000 for Eastern Maine Medical Center and the Eastport Arts Center. They helped set up for the Suddy 5k run which has paid out over $34,000 in scholarships to Shead High School graduates. They created and participated in Project Graduation taking a walk around the school, making a list of 32 things that they felt needed to be fixed, cleaned, or replaced before graduation and spending 2 weeks of JMG class time crossing them off the list one by one… and completing every single task in time for tonight’s ceremony. Oh, and one more thing, over the past 3 years, these students have participated in a Turkey-a-Thon that has provided over 1000 local families with a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

So, while some may think that teenagers in general and the teenagers on the stage behind me, in particular, are lazy, or do not care about anything other than themselves or their phones, or taking selfies, you all know better than that now. The young people on the stage behind me are incredibly dedicated, hard-working, caring and talented individuals with whom I am proud to be associated and who I am looking forward to calling my neighbors in the future.

So, my advice to these young people is simple: never stop. Never stop reading. Never stop learning. Never stop lending a helping hand. Find people you love and never stop loving them. Find activities you love and never stop doing them. Never stop reading. Oh, did I say that one twice? Never stop setting goals and doing everything in your power to achieve them. Finally and most importantly, never stop being yourself and never stop knowing how infinitely proud I and the rest of this community are of you and that we will never stop supporting you.

Congratulations, Shead High School’s Class of 2016. You have a different constitution. You have a different brain. You have a different heart. You got tiger blood, man. Thank you for sharing your talents and your time with us, and thank you for inviting me to celebrate your accomplishments with you tonight.

Never stop. Good night