‘Class of 2012 … Be our ambassadors to the world’

Keynote speaker Justin Ponzio delivers his speech to the Christopher High School class of 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears! Yea, Class of 2012, you will never have to hear that in a high school classroom again!
“Christopher High School. The start of a great tradition.” That is what the shirts said on the first day of school. As the first class to graduate, you have created great traditions like “Days of Respect” and visiting the Museum of Tolerance. You have awarded athletes for more than their efforts on the field or court with the coveted “Character Counts Award.” You raised athletic banners in wrestling, football, girls basketball, softball and boys golf. You created a tradition of academic excellence by having the highest API scores in our entire athletic league!
While those traditions are considered great, I also want to mention some of your ahem … other traditions. You were the first group to make an aquarium out of the Greek Theater behind me by placing golf fish at the bottom.
While we would like to think our traditional rivalry, would be across town, yea Slater, we will always remember the ringing of the bell at the end of the Severance Bowl. This class has certainly secured a rivalry with that private school over the hill. Who can forget the congeniality that occurred on the women’s basketball court?
Additionally, we can all appreciate the addition of code names, quadrants, and tasks that were supposed to be pulled off. If only the ritual of leaving secret plans on teacher desktops was not also part of your long line great tradition things may have been different. Yes, Mikey, we’re talking about you.
Yea, Class of 2012, you most certainly have played a pivotal role in creating great traditions at Christopher High School.
As you think back on all of your individual accomplishments, along with what you as a class accomplished, you may be wondering, what happens next? Some of you believe you have it all figured out. That you know the path you are taking is the right one. While it is important to have confidence in your decision, it is equally important to be able to accept change.
You see, high school is something that you complete, four years of English and social studies, three years of math and science, two years of of world language, and so on, and so forth. Yes, you understand the requirements of getting here. But Class of 2012, life is something you experience. Life has no core curriculum, or A through G requirements. Everything in life is elective. That path you take is uncertain, and that ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2012, that uncertain path, is precisely what makes life worth living.
I did not graduate from college and enter the teaching profession immediately. It took me time, and experience to believe this what what I wanted to do.
I graduated from Chico State, yes, people do graduate from Chico, and was immediately accepted into the master’s program in history and thought, my path would lead to a Ph.D. I enrolled in classes, debated with my colleagues, and spent hours reading about the past. I did all the right things on paper, yet something did not feel right. One day, I found confirmation of just how wrong that path was.
As I walked into class, my professor began discussing the pressures to publish, that few jobs are available and that I could expect to be teaching at two or three different community colleges, if I could get hired in first place.
There, was my confirmation. I wanted to be a part of a community. I wanted to work with people who shared a common goal. I wanted to feel as thought my job was more than just a pay check. I quit the master’s program, packed up what little I had into my 1992 Honda Accord, moved to Denver and got hired at a hospital working with youth. Why Denver you ask? The answer, why not? I did not know anyone out there, had no idea where I would live, and being from California, had no real winter clothing.
I thought, my path to Denver would be the right one. I am here to tell you, in that in Gilroy, California, that taking a leap into the unknown, was the best thing I ever did.
While the path may have been rocky, I learned a lot about myself. First, I learned that a 1992 Honda is not the right car to have if you want to live in the mountains. I learned that my leap into something foreign and unknown forced me to make the best out of something. I learned that when faced with a difficult task to act as thought it is impossible to fail. Class of 2012, when going after Moby Dick, bring the tartar sauce.
I learned that with an open mind, friends will be made, happiness will come, and life is an experience. Most importantly I learned that I want to be part of a profession, that puts faith into tomorrow’s leaders and can be part of a people who believe in people like you.
So, I quit my job, packed up even less again, and moved back to California to earn my teaching credential. I have found a profession and place I love. It took me time to find it. But, Class of 2012, I have found my calling.
What does this story mean to you on your high school graduation?
Precisely this. You cannot expect to know that the path you are about to walk down is the correct one. You cannot connect the dots of your life looking forward. Believing that the dots will be connected down the road, will give you the confidence to follow your heart when it leads you down a path few have taken, and that, as Robert Frost said, makes all the difference.
As we come closer and closer to announcing your names tonight, take a moment and think of what it took to get here. You have climbed the mountain and navigated the trail known as high school.
I implore you to look at this day, not as the final bookend of your life’s accomplishments, but as a stepping stone to great things. On this path called life, you will get lost. You will question if you made the right decisions. You will wonder if this path you are taking will take you to where you want to go. The simple fact is that you don’t know. You will not know which path to take and accepting that eases the anxiety of life experience.
As you leave these comfortable surroundings and head out there on whichever path you choose, trust in yourself and your abilities. Class of 2012, sail away from this safe harbor! Be our ambassadors to the world. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore without reservation. Turn dreams into reality. Discover who you are. Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2012, today does not mark the end. Today, is the first day of the rest of your life. Thank you very much.
– Justin Ponzio, student elected keynote speaker and social studies teacher at Christopher High School

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