Toronto ’13 class has unique honor

TORONTO – The city high school graduating Class of 2013 was reminded by speaker after speaker during commencement exercises Friday they were special, as they would be the last to graduate from what soon would be the former Toronto High School.

The district expects its new building housing grades six through 12 to be ready for next school year.

Graduates filed into the school gymnasium to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” as performed by the Toronto High School Band. John Rodesh, co-valedictorian and senior class president, led the Pledge of Allegiance and welcomed families, faculty, friends and graduates to the event.

Josh Elliott, pastor of the Riverview United Methodist Church, told graduates they were on the front lines of the future.

“Congratulations to all of you for your hard work,” he said, adding graduates should be grateful to families, teachers and “the community supporting this school for so long.”

Elliott said the Class of 2013 faces a crisis in morals, and they should stick to the “moral standard” they’ve been taught while in Toronto.

“Nothing is more important than being a righteous person,” he said.

Guest speaker Tom Graham, Jefferson County commissioner and sociology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told graduates this was only the first step in a long process to fulfill their potential.

“I’ve sat where you’re sitting now,” said Graham, a 1973 graduate of Toronto High School. “You class is very special. You are the last class to graduate from this high school.”

Graham said it was a time to look back, possibly with some sadness, but “also with great joy for a quality education.” He said voters passing the levy to construct the new building – the only school district in Ohio to pass such a levy – meant that the community supported their education.

Graham also discussed the meaning of the various symbols associated with the Red Knights, and graduates’ time at the school should help build courage. He said the path of their lives was now up to them. He also reminded graduates it was time to give back to society in some way.

“Where you want to continue your learning is up to you,” he said, adding graduates earning diplomas showed they were up to the challenge. “You have every right to be proud of your accomplishment. Good leaders earn respect. When you fall down, pick yourself up. Good luck in your journey in life and always be proud to be a Red Knight,” said Graham.

Fred Burns, district superintendent, said it was time for a new beginning.

“This building has served its purpose, and boy, we have a beautiful new building,” he said, adding he often meets with classmates from the Toronto graduating Class of 1967. “We’ve learned to share the memories of what we’ve done in these great halls. Be proud, but look back to your roots.”

Co-Valedictorian Mykenna Risler told graduates the future was for the taking.

“Today we stand on the brink of a new chapter in our lives,” she said. “Let us take a moment to reflect on our accomplishments, and to look back and see, and appreciate just how far we have all come. It is hard to believe that in the next few months the Graduating Class of 2013 will be out in the world and faced with new challenges. “Some of us will go on to college, others will go straight into the workforce, but each of us will travel our own path,” Risler continued. “No matter where we go or what we do, there will be obstacles in the road ahead. What I urge from each of you, and from myself, is to over come those obstacles with an open mind and your head held high. It is not enough to just simply get by in life. You must try to excel in everything you do, and to strive for excellence in every task, large or small.”

Co-Valedictorian Cari Horne’s told the gathering what it takes to be successful.

“During the weeks approaching this day I had to decide what I was going to talk about,” said Horne. “Though it was very difficult, I kept coming back to one thing that I feel is very important to everyone. That one thing is success. I believe that everyone truly wants to be successful. However, I feel that many people have the wrong ideas of what success truly is.

“When many think of a successful person they may think of doctors, lawyers and other wealthy people,” she continued. “This isn’t necessarily success. It’s not about what you are doing – it’s about doing what you love and doing it well. I think that Webster defines it well as a ‘favorable or desired outcome.’ No matter what you may end up doing, if you are happy and get the outcome that you wanted, you have been successful.”

Rodesh told graduates they needed a certain attitude to stay motivated.

“We certainly owe part of our success in life to others, those people who are selfless enough to devote their time to push us to new levels,” Rodesh said. “But what motivated us as individuals? And what will keep us going, pushing us to succeed?

“Nike said it best – ‘Just Do It,'” continued Rodesh. “These three little words embrace all of the feelings of drive, motivation and the physical and mental struggle that accompany it. What do emergency personnel think before they run into a burning building, or what do troops think as they run into combat? They may actually think twice, but overpowering all of that is their ‘Just Do It’ attitude. As we leave the safety net that is Toronto and the comfort of our homes where we rely on our parents, this attitude is essential.”

Graduates were then presented with diplomas before closing remarks and the recessional.