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The future is now, but memories will remain

WORTHINGTON -- Thirteen years ago, we were but lowly kindergartners, learning to tie our shoes and count to 100. As we moved up the ranks of schooling, we experienced our first crushes and our first permanent teeth. We started figuring out who are friends were. It was when we entered middle school that we first learned about love and loss. We lost friends only to gain new ones, like a snake shedding its old skin. We started noticing the opposite gender: girls started to develop real feelings for boys; boys wondered why girls went to the bathroom three at a time. We started becoming aware of ourselves and getting a picture as to who we were going to be in life. The days of firefighters, astronauts and professional dancers were gone; suddenly, we wanted to be teachers, authors and biologists. We entered high school four years ago, little freshmen, scared out of our minds. We've heard the horror stories: the seniors who like to gang up on freshmen that walk the halls alone, which suddenly explained why everyone went to the bathroom in groups. Slowly, we started to realize that as we moved up each grade, we gained more responsibility, until finally, we sit in this gym tonight, just moments away from becoming the graduated class of 2008.

It's going to feel empty without this great class roaming the halls next year; we all knew what it felt like when our senior friends graduated and moved away. But like all things in life, high school moves in a cycle, and next year there will be a new group of seniors, with new goals and new adventures, getting ready to be released into a new world. But for now, let's prepare ourselves for the future by looking at our past.

We've know each other for quite a while, and because of this, we have a great collection of stories to share, like that one time in fifth grade band where the director asked a young boy to toss her a stand, and he actually did, and ended up hitting a young girl in the back of the head. Or, the story of how a certain someone ramped his car over a snowdrift because his gas pedal was stuck; at least, that's what he told the hypnotist at prom. Yes, the memories of having the contests of who could put the most cinnamon breath strips in their mouth. I think the record is 63 strips, and two weeks without tasting anything. And finally, there's the story of the AP Psychology student who participated in an experiment, and was forced to stand in the middle of the room in a recycling bin, flapping his wings, singing "Old MacDonald Had A Farm." Then there are stories that are too long to tell, but a short phrase can bring back memories: the fire alarm in the ag room, the Seventh Grade Stink Bomb, or describing the senior class in one word. There are many other great stories floating around the gym; you just have to know whom to ask.

Which brings us to our class quote: "Together we have experienced life, separately we will pursue our dreams, but forever our memories will remain." Tonight we'll walk across this stage, receive our diploma and be thrust into a world we've never really experienced before. We'll go through that molting process again, losing friends from high school and gaining friends from college, but we'll always have the memories. Some of them may not be pleasant, and some of them will leave you laughing until you fall asleep. But really, isn't it the memories that count? Becky Aligada once said, "Memories are the treasures that we keep locked deep within the storehouse of our souls, to keep our hearts warm when we are lonely." Some days you may completely forget about your high school friends, other days you may long to call them again just to catch up. But you can always think back to your memories to put a smile on your face.

Many of us have mixed feelings about tonight. Some of us are wondering why we have to leave; others are wondering what's taking so long. Some of us are wondering how much longer we can stay; others of us are ready to start life anew. Some of us are going to hang around Worthington for a while, to make a few extra dollars and build work experience to make ourselves more viable in the workforce; others of us have our cars running in the parking lot, bags packed, waiting for the moment when we can just hop in and drive away.

In just a few moments, we're going to be asked to walk across this stage, take our diploma in our hands and become official alumni to Worthington High School. I'm sure that as we make the journey across the stage, our school life is going to flash before our eyes: we'll once again see ourselves in circle time in kindergarten; we'll watch as we run around the playground during free play; we'll laugh at our childish mistakes, and we'll cry when we relive troubling times. By the time we reach the end of this stage, we'll wonder where we're going from here. It could be to Minnesota West; it could be across the country; it could be overseas. We'll wonder what we're going to be in life -- a teacher, a carpenter, a politician. We'll wonder when we'll cross paths again: a few months, a few years, in another lifetime. We'll wonder and worry about everything in our future lives: will I be successful? Will I still recognize my classmates? Will they still recognize me?

We've done all that we can do here, we've learned all that we can learn, we've experienced all we can experience, and after tonight, we'll have one final high school memory: that night, on May 30, 2008, in a hot, stuffy gym, when we officially became the graduated class of 2008.

Kyle Fleming is a 2008 graduate of Worthington High School. He delivered this speech at the May 30 commencement ceremony.