Coal Ridge High School commencement speaker encourages the pursuit of happiness |

Coal Ridge High School commencement speaker encourages the pursuit of happiness

Tatiana Flowers
The Coal Ridge HIgh School graduating class of 2018 throw their caps into the air in celebration of moving onto the next chapter of their lives during Saturday afternoon's ceremony at Coal Ridge HIgh School.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Family members and friends clapped and whistled as Coal Ridge High School’s seniors filed onto the facility’s track and field for a commencement ceremony Saturday.

Aspiring athletes, service members, medical practitioners and pilots were among the school’s departing class, and a sense of gratitude, hopefulness, and humbleness emerged during student and faculty speeches.

“Today is a beautiful day to graduate,” Garfield Re-2 Superintendent Brent Curtice said to a crowd of onlookers, who fanned themselves and held umbrella’s to block the day’s harsh sun.

“We are here to celebrate your commencement from high school, and send you off on what will be an incredible journey.”

“Today,” he added, “is the day to signify that you’ve made it. We honor you and we celebrate your future.”

Another theme arose in Assistant Principal Michael Mikalakis’ speech.

His message to students was to find and pursue happiness, in whatever way, shape or form they could obtain it. Mikalakis said a former teacher and mentor passed the same message to him when he was 22 and studying to become a teacher.

Mr. Fitzpatrick, he said, would often draw a rectangle and a circle on the chalkboard, and write “the meaning of life” right under it.

He’d promise almost daily to elaborate on the picture, but would always conveniently run out of time, Mikalakis said.

On the last day of class, students anxiously awaited for Mr. Fitzpatrick’s revelation.

Instead, he told students, “I’ll save the meaning of life for a little bit later on.”

Mikalakis would go on to establish his own sense of the meaning of life through happiness in daily life, in simple tasks.

He referenced finding meaning in life through happiness, in teaching English and sports, in dressing up as a Charlie Brown, his favorite TV cartoon.

He’d find happiness in fishing and making others happy.

Thirteen years later, he shared the same message with his own students.

“Life is about finding happiness, and happiness is different for every single person,” he said, adding that some will find joy through serving in the military, raising a family, or healing people in the medical field.

“But make sure there will always be happiness in it for you, no matter what it is.”

He closed the speech by sharing one more example of how he finds daily joy: “You have truly made me happy over these past four fleeting years. I know you will all find your individual meaning of life.”

As students, family members and friends cheered, he introduced valedictorian Zach Barry and co-salutatorian Santana Martinez and described them as selfless role models for future students.

Barry, whose goal is to produce more affordable cancer medication, challenged other graduating students to be more tolerant of others.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a jock or a nerd, what religion you practice, or what sexuality you are, he said to his class, “Today we come together as one body, as the class of 2018.”

Martinez, who plans to attend Seattle University this fall, said that although it’s important to her to remain connected to the community that has shaped her into who she is today, she can’t help but yearn for something different; she wonders what’s in store for her.

Her co-salutatorian, Jake Whitaker, echoed her sentiment. He said, “I’m really excited for what’s to come and I’m grateful for what’s gotten me here.”

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