Amid tears and laughter, 262 seniors at Neosho High School received diplomas during commencement ceremonies Friday night.

Sydney Angel, an American History teacher at the school, gave the keynote address, one filled with hope.

She told the newly minted graduates hope was to wish for something with the expectation and confidence it will be fulfilled.

“Hope is something we all share,” she said. “Even now, as I speak, you are hoping. Hoping that they pronounce your name correctly. Hoping you walk across the stage without falling. And maybe, most importantly, hoping that Mrs. Angel does not go on and on forever. And those are all great hopes. But I am speaking of bigger hopes. Hopes for each of your distinct futures, and a hope for our shared future.”

She told the students many of her hopes for them were similar to those she had for her own children, as many of the seniors had been “my kids” for many years. She said her hopes for them begin with whatever is next in their lives, whether that be college, technical school or the workforce.

“Whatever is next, I hope you will find your place,” Angel said. “A place in this world that is yours, a place where you fit. One where your passions, your desires, and your talents, can be recognized and utilized. If such a place does not exist, I hope you have the courage and strength to create  it. To carve for yourself a place, that is entirely yours, where the greatest you have to offer will be realized and you will thrive.”

She said in their search, the class of 29014 needed to have patience, particularly with themselves and the people around them.

“Things will not always go according to your plan, there will be twists and turns, triumphs and adversity. And I hope you will have the patience to endure the challenges, because oftentimes, the best things in life come out of the unexpected and often complicated parts of your journey. After all, the things in life worth having, are worth working for.”

Another virtue seniors must strive for in their lives is persistence. Angel told a parable about a farmer’s old donkey that had fallen into a well. The animal brayed and cried out for rescue, but the farmer didn’t know what to do.

Dismayed, he decided the well needed filled in, and since the donkey was old, he would fill in the well on top of it. He hoped the animal wouldn’t suffer much.

With his neighbors, the farmer began to shovel earth into the fissure. When the donkey realized what was happening, he began to wail and struggle. Then the noise stopped.

Puzzled, the farmer looked into the well, and found the donkey not only still alive, but progressing toward the top. The donkey discovered that by shaking off the dirt as it fell instead of letting it collect on him, he could keep stepping on earth as the level rose. Soon he was able to clamber out of the well and trotted away.

“Life tends to shovel dirt on top of each of us from time to time,” Angel told the graduates. “The trick is to shake it off and take a step up.”

Another hope for the students as they go on with the next chapter of their lives was for maturity and discernment. Angel cautioned the students that being of legal age didn’t make them mature. She said some were mature and capable of difficult decisions years ago, while others still a ways to go in this area.

“The ability to see a decision not only for its immediate outcome or reward, but for the ultimate outcome, years down the road, is a valued and sometimes overlooked commodity,” she said. “To understand that good and bad decisions will have lasting effects. But also to know that mistakes can become the chance to bring growth, and you will hopefully not be the same person you are today.  Muhammad Ali put it this way: ‘The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.’”
She also advised graduates to look for the humor and the bright side of situations in life, instead of the negative. She told of an old woman with three hairs on her head. One day, she decided she would braid the hairs. The next day, down to just two, she decided to comb them in a center part. When the following day she awoke with just one hair, she decided to wear it in a pony-tail.

And when she awoke bald, she said. “How wonderful! I won’t have to waste time doing my hair anymore.”

“Always be thankful for what you have, instead of concentrating on what is missing,” Angel cautioned.

She also told the class to aspire to leave the world better than they found it. She said this could take many forms.

“It could be as simple as a kindness shown in a time of sadness,” she said. “It could be the protection of something others have yet to see the value in. It could be in finding a cure for cancer, or ending world hunger. At the center of this hope is a desire for greatness, not for the individual, but for us all.

“There are great struggles out in the world: war, disasters, cruelty. There are great struggles here at home: hunger, brutality, apathy. In order for this collective hope to be realized, to triumph over the hardships, hope will have to take action. Hoping, or wishing with confidence, is not enough alone.

“According to our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, ‘You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.’

“Class of 2014, I hope you do not forget the errand, to enrich the world, hope for a greater future, and work toward the fulfillment of that future. Congratulations again, I have high hopes for you!”