It was a day of reminiscing as well as looking towards the future. And there was lots of sage advice offered to the 129 graduates and four honorary graduates of H. J. Cody High School.
Describing them as “a pretty fabulous group of kids sitting before us today”, Principal Dave Elwood began the “celebration for what these students have achieved along their long 12 year road”.
The school’s graduation was held last Wednesday – a departure from past years when the ceremonies were held in early May. The reason, said organizers, was to keep students focused on their studies until the end of the school year.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle encouraged students to “live every day and enjoy what you do, do what is right.”
“Life is about relationships, keep them solid and binding,” she said.
She told them to seek additional education, stating Alberta has some amazing trade schools, art colleges and universities.
“It’s about allowing your mind to expand. Post-secondary teaches you how to think critically,” Towle said.
Graduates were also told to become engaged citizens. “Look within yourself and find something you’re concerned about and get involved. Whatever interests you, get involved and be part of your community.”
Her final point was “be loyal to your family both in the present and in the future… they are your backbone, your support.”
“You have a great future, only you will determine the limits,” she concluded. “With great opportunity comes great responsibility. Make your life count.”
Towle then presented the MLA Citizenship Award to Summer Workman.
Chinook’s Edge School Division Assistant Superintendent Lissa Steele offered the graduates five suggestions.
“You don’t need to rush into finding your life’s work,” she began. “Find what interests you and go for it.”
“Opportunities are going to arise, be flexible,” Steele encouraged. “Learn from your mistakes, get over it and move on.”
“Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is helping you get to where you want to be.”
And finally, she told the graduates, “never underestimate your power to get you to where you want to be.”
Chinook’s Edge trustee Joe-Anne Matejka told graduates to heed the advice they receive, keep it in the back of their minds and think back on it. “Enjoy life, do it in a safe manner. I hope you live it to the fullest,” she concluded.
Guest speaker Lyndon Rush related the story of his Olympic bobsled experience, telling graduates about his feelings before, during and after his crash and how he overcame the jolt to his psyche.
He described the crash – “it felt like the tumble dry selection, barrelling down the track”.
Hunkered inside the sled, he described feeling sorry for himself and his brakeman who “pushed me to the fastest start at the Olympic games”.
Rush said going into the Olympics they knew they had to be at their highest peak. They were prepared physically.
Talking to the chaplain at the Olympic Centre, Rush said he knew they needed to be peaked spiritually as well. “I was at a good place in my spiritual life. Jesus really works for me,” he said.
After the crash “my spiritual training kicked in”. He asked himself what he had to be thankful for. That was the birth of his teammate’s baby boy that day. “That stirred something in me, I was in pretty good spirits,” he said.
“I don’t think there can ever be a point in my life I don’t have something to be thankful for.”
Rush said he shared his technique with teammates in the four man event and they all talked about something they had to be thankful about.
Then in the event “we really nailed it. The team came together and worked to its potential.”
At the end of the third run they were in second place, one one-hundredth of a second ahead of the German team of André Lange who were the defending Olympic champions. That meant they were the second last sled to go down the track on the final run.
When they reach the bottom of the track their coach holds up one, two or more fingers to show how many people are ahead of them in the times.
“It was a cool feeling to cross the finish line. Looking for our coach he had a big smile on his face and was holding up two fingers.” Lange’s team was the third last team to go down the track and had beat Rush’s combined time by one one-hundredth of a second. “My teammates were all celebrating we had won the bronze medal. I was sitting there thinking we should have beat that guy because his first three runs were a little slower.”
Rush told the graduates to think about the bigger picture. “Where you want to finish.”
When you think about finishing strong you think about things in reverse order. “The little things you do every day add up. Little habits you start today will carry on. Have good habits,” he said. “Do the best at what you’re doing.”
He remembered when he was their age, he started chewing tobacco. “I thought it was no big deal. I was just having fun, I was just a kid. I’m still struggling with that today,” he admitted.
Valedictorian duties were shared by Ashley Lutz and Taylor Solberg.
The H. J. Cody Choir, including a number of the graduates in their caps and gowns, sang “Looking Up To You”, “And We Rise Again” and “Seasons of Love”, during the ceremonies.
Three graduates – Colin Cline, Sloane Davis and Taylor Solberg – sang “For Good” from Wicked.
Then students were presented with certificates by Elwood and Vice Principal Darcy Marshall while information on their future plans was read by Vice Principal Jas Payne. Matejka gave each one a Chinook’s Edge pin.
In concluding remarks, Elwood paid tribute to H. J. Cody staff members. “This group really does care,” he said noting that caring takes and effort. “I thank the staff for being so awesome.”
He said the graduates created “Thank You” postcards which they sent to people who have made an impact on their lives. They printed 400 cards and they were all used, Elwood said, explaining “this is a thankful group”.
Addressing the graduates he told them to “pause, take a deep breath, ask questions of people you trust, think and then take action. Pausing gives you a chance to see what’s really happening. Sometime this week, pause and reflect on what’s really important. Am I the person I want to be, remember, take time to pause, think about it.
“Pause, reflect, think, ask questions, think again, then move forward,” Elwood told them.
The ceremonies were held in the multiplex with hundreds of family and friends present. A banquet was held in Red Deer that evening.