Oconto Falls grads urged to be hope leaders

Class of 1973 president is guest speaker
Warren Bluhm

Martin Luther King once spoke of the dignity of all work, Oconto Falls High School Principal Dan Moore reminded graduating seniors on May 28.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry,” King once said. “He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

In his opening remarks at the Class of 2023 graduation ceremony, Moore told the graduates to heed King’s statement.

“Class of 2023, what are you called to do?” Moore asked. “Whatever it is, do it well. Take pride in yourselves, take pride in your work, take pride in your actions and your words, be your very best.”

Superintendent Dean Hess said the graduating class represents the future.

“I challenge you to take the knowledge that you have acquired as well as the perseverance that you have developed during the times of adversity and use these tools as you embrace the challenges and the opportunities that you will experience throughout the rest of your life,” Hess said.

Looking back over the past four years senior speaker Tess Maggio had advice for the next group of underclassmen.

“Do all the things,” Maggio said. “Join the club. Try out for the sport. Play the instrument. Act in the play. Sing in the choir. Go to the dances and study, even if it’s just a little, and you may not want to go to that football game that’s an hour away, but once you find yourself here in a cap and gown, you might wish you could’ve gone to just one more.”

Another senior Kate Pytleski focused on the theme, “How will you continue to grow?” She said the group had about 60 more minutes of “pure joy and the fact that we achieved the first big goal,” but then the excitement will begin to wear off.

“The 61st minute is when I challenge everyone to do some self-reflection,” Pytleski said. “Today, classmates, think about how you really want to continue to grow, because as much as we think we finally grew up, we have a lot more growing to do.”

Maggio, Pytleski and Brooke Senn continued a long-standing tradition of having three of this year’s seniors address their classmates. Main speaker John Kershek had given one of those speeches 50 years ago, when he was student council president.

Kershek introduced himself as “a proud member of the Class of 1973, the biggest and best class ever to graduate from this school,” adding, “Put it this way: In 1972, the No. 1 prom theme in America as ‘A Midnight in Paris.’ Our class chose ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin. Yes, we were bad.”

He talked about a snowy day in March when a teacher talked about the city of Hong Kong.

“And I thought Hong Kong — That sounds so wonderful, so exotic, so magical, and I decided right then and there, I was going to go to Hong Kong,” Kershek said. “And as the snow fell I thought, ‘I’ve never been farther away than Green Bay. I’m just a country farm boy. How am I going to go to Hong Kong?’”

As it turned out, Kershek said his career path took him to Hong Kong 23 times.

“We were the class that was going to change the world,” he said. “We were going to reunited Vietnam. We were going to solve world hunger. We were going to have peace and fairness for all people. All children would have a home. All people would be educated, and everyone around the world would hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ and every morning Thumper and Bambi would run across our front yards.”

Then life got in the way, Kershek said, urging the graduates to choose their own paths. He had the group stand up, turn and face the audience, telling the crowd that they were seeing the future and the graduates that they were seeing the history that brought them to this day.

Then he asked members of the Class of 2023 to hold up their hands and pledge: “I (state your name) will go into the world with peace, have courage, hold onto all that is good, return no evil for evil, help those who suffer, honor all people, be a hope leader, and someday, I will go to Hong Kong.”