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Updated: 06/08/2013 08:00:41AM

An honest and constructive commencement speech

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Another group of students has left the halls of Lake Wales High School as graduates. They are off to face their futures in a world full of hope, uncertainty and opportunity.

Last week’s graduation ceremony celebrated the graduates who worked hard to finish school.

This year the event was held at Legion’s Field, where the Highlanders play football. On that hot, summer day, Cheryl Garnett, the director of Polk State College’s Lake Wales campus, gave this year’s commencement speech.

Parents, students and community leaders should pay attention to the honest and inspirational message contained in her speech.

Garnett told parents and students that there is a tendency to listen to the negative voices in life and just settle for something less than success. She listed some comments we often hear:

- Lake Wales is not a community that can build and sustain a high performing charter school system.

- There is a large population of economically disadvantaged students and they are less likely to succeed.

- Student behavior is out of control.

- Students do not come to school to learn, but instead to showcase the latest fashion

-Student uniforms will not work.

Garnett told students that they will face challenges in life that might seem insurmountable but if you meet those challenges head on with an attitude that says “I will not be defeated . . . I am a believer and an achiever. I won’t be blocked and I won’t be stopped” then success is more likely.

The Polk State official understands what it is like to grow up in Lake Wales . She is a graduate of Lake Wales High School. Garnett knows something about the value of education and living with an attitude that success is achievable.

Her mother graduated high school and her father finished just 7 years of public school education. But she went to Florida Atlantic University and received a bachelor’s degree. Later she received her master’s degree at Webber University and is now seeking a doctorate degree.

During her speech Garnett did something that a few folks didn’t like but was, we think, honest and helpful to our town. She told the crowd that there were students, like a young lady who became pregnant during her junior year, who made bad choices but gathered up her courage, finished school (in this case with honors) and got herself back on track.

She also pointed out a young man who, when he was in the 9th grade, was in a gang and not headed in the right direction. This young man, Garnett told the crowd, is now graduating after making a huge comeback and turning his life around.

The commencement speaker was not telling her audience that we should encourage this type of behavior or poor choices, but that our families can overcome these situations.

We should celebrate and encourage these type of turnarounds. Simply giving up and settling is not the answer. Perseverance and the will to do better are qualities we want our educators to instill in our children.

We must, as Garnett so aptly did in her speech, talk openly and honestly about the poverty and challenges our community faces. We must also hold up and encourage our local institutions that are working to help our children succeed.

Our charter school system is trying to do just that and Garnett told students and parents that they should be proud of their high school for making great improvements during the past few years.

We applaud the graduates of Lake Wales High for finishing school. We are proud of each and every one them for their achievements, whether they are class valedictorian or the student who turned their grades around from a D to a B or faced severe personal hardships that were overcome before graduation. All of those achievements are worthy of recognition.

Garnett finished her speech with these words:

“Oh, Highlanders the places you’ll go! Always take the high road. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking. Focus on your blessings and don’t let dream stealers rob you of your joy. Build a team of people with positive spirits who pay it forward instead of whiners and haters who grind you down. You are the hope for the future.”

Well said.