Gillett grads choose poison ivy as class flower

Principal makes unique comparisons between plants, students
Kevin Passon

Members of the Gillett High School class of 2024 have lived through a lot — and salutatorian Ben Matczak reminded them of that at their May 26 graduation ceremony.

Matczak described each year of high school in a unique way.

Freshman year was the Great Depression due to COVID-19 and the cancellation of classes and activities.

“That year was kind of a bust for all of us,” he said.

Sophomore year was the Renaissance, when sports, clubs and activities resumed.

“This was the rebirth of our class,” he said. “We were thriving, growing, learning and actually socializing.”

Junior year was hell.

“This was the year we all had to lock in,” Matczak said. “We were studying left and right, choosing a whole bunch of classes that we could get college credit for, doubling up on math, science, English.”

Finally, senior year was the Golden Era.

“I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better ending for this experience,” he said. “This is the year we all realized we were ready to go off and start our own lives.”

Valedictorian Bradin Bjelland encouraged his classmates to take the experiences learned thus far and use them to continue to grow and learn.

“Our accomplishments varied in many ways … yet, for some of us, our greatest accomplishment will happen today as we walk across this stage and graduate,” he said. “One things remains constant — the road we took to get here.”

Gillett High School principal Shawn Limberg addressed the class and jokingly questioned them about their choice for class flower — poison ivy. Then, he turned it around and compared attributes of the plant to the students and what is in store for them.

Like the graduates, this plant is much more than meets the eye. It faces challenges on a regular basis.

“It’s pushed through soil, whether harsh winters or perhaps even been trampled by an enthusiastic but slightly misplaced soccer ball,” he said. “Yet, it perseveres, a testament to its remarkable resilience.”

He encouraged the seniors to be like poison ivy and not just survive but to thrive.

The plant is adaptable, as it grows in sun and shade.

“Embrace new experiences, adjust to different circumstance, and learn from the world around you,” he said.

Poison ivy has natural defenses.

“Learn to set healthy boundaries, to recognize your limits and advocate for yourselves,” Limberg said. “Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in even when it may be uncomfortable.”

Finally, he talked of the plant’s unconventional beauty in its vibrant green leaves and red veins.

“Embrace your own talents, even the ones that seem a little out there,” Limberg said.”Your individuality is your strength. Own it, and use it to make your mark on the world.”