BUCKHANNON — The first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate in the history of West Virginia shared some words of wisdom with the 233 students who graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School Friday night during the 130th annual Commencement.
Her first piece of advice to the Class of 2017 in the age of ever-advancing technology?
Put down your smartphone.
“Look up and pay attention to the world around you,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told the sea students clad in blue and white who filled up West Virginia Wesleyan College’s Rockefeller Gymnasium. “We are too consumed with our phones today. Enjoy your surroundings, listen and be present. Put your phones down at meals with family members. Texts can be misinterpreted, and real face-to-face social interaction is something we take for granted.”
Secondly, cherish the relationships you cultivated in high school and work hard to maintain those relationships, Capito told the 2017 graduates.
“West Virginia is one big small town, and we need to help our neighbors in need,” she said, holding up the way in which West Virginians across the Mountain State rallied around those in the southern part of the state who were devastated by the historic floods in June 2016. Locally, she pointed to the community support following the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster, which took the lives of 12 coal miners in Upshur County.
Capito said it’s also important to show gratitude.
“Life moves quickly, so make it a special point to send a handwritten thank-you note,” the senator said. Finally, she encouraged the graduates to embrace the ups and downs of life, which she described as a “a zig and a zag – not a straight line.”
“The path I took was not a straight line: I majored in zoology in college and that prepared me to work in the biggest zoo in America, Washington, D.C.,” she quipped.
On a serious note, she advised graduates to be brave enough to make a change if they felt as if they were on the wrong path. Persistence always pays off, and small victories are just as important as large ones, Capito said.
The senator concluded her speech by quoting the lyrics from a 2009 Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb,” about the fact that obstacles are ever-present in a person’s life.
“There’s always going to be another mountain, I’m always going to want to make it move, it’s always going to be an uphill battle, sometimes, I’m going to have to lose, it ain’t about how fast I get there, it ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side, it’s the climb,” Capito said.
B-UHS principal Eddie Vincent and Upshur County Schools superintendent Roy Wager also offered congratulations to students.
Vincent said students should express their gratitude to those people in their lives who have supported them throughout their academic journey.
“Please make sure you thank whomever helped you along the way,” Vincent said. “Also, surround yourself with positive influences and find a career you enjoy.”
Wager gave props to the Class of 2017, which amassed $3 million total in scholarships and grants.
The audience had an opportunity to hear from two students graduating with highest honors, Emily King and Kylee Rolenson.
King said her classmates should tie their past experiences to the anticipation they likely felt about their futures.
“Do we look back or just look ahead?” she asked rhetorically. “I think we should tie both things together. We’ve shared laughter, tears, made friends and lost them, but all in all, we’ve made memories that will last a lifetime. In the future, I hope you will all look for your version of success and go after it.”
Quoting from the 2008 film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” King said she hoped her cohorts will always remember that, “It’s never too late to be who you wanted to be.”
Rolenson said she wanted to thank her teachers, friends and above all, God, for providing guidance throughout her high school journey.
Under the direction of choir director Jeremiah Smallridge, the B-UHS Concert Choir performed three numbers, including “Seasons of Love” by Jonathan Larson, “He Never Failed Me Yet” by Robert Ray and “Alma Mater” arranged by Danny Williams with the B-UHS Band.
After every student had received his or her diploma, the graduates tossed their caps in the air and streamed outside on the lawn of the Rockefeller Gymnasium in the night air to share hugs and congratulations and exclamations of, “I did it!” with their fellow classmates.