The featured commencement speaker was Peggy Nissen, who worked at GCHS for more than 30 years, first as a teacher and then as a counselor before retiring two years ago. Now a member of the Grand County Board of Education, Nissen also serves as the adviser for the high school’s Upward Bound program.
Nissen said she initially demurred when asked to speak at graduation, then changed her mind when she realized she wouldn’t want any of the students to “take the easy way out” by saying no to an opportunity. She said when she first came to Moab over three decades ago, she had no idea that her career would take the path that it did.
“Not getting what you want is sometimes a remarkable stroke of luck,” she said, quoting the Dalai Lama. “What you do get instead may change the course of your life.”
Nissen encouraged the graduates to “open your arms to change,” but also cautioned, “don’t let go of your values.”
“You will all make a difference in the world,” Nissen said.
She concluded her remarks with a quote from Jeanette LeBlanc. “Experience. Dream. Risk,” Nissen said. “Discover the beauty of uncertainty ... make millions of mistakes so that you will know how to choose what you really need.
“Be wrong every once in a while, and don’t be afraid to admit it ... Own your reality without apology. See goodness in the world. Be bold. Be fierce. Be grateful. Be wild, crazy and gloriously free. Be you. Go now, and live.”
The program also included a welcome speech by GCHS student body president Torrie Lopez and addresses by class valedictorian Maren Larsen and salutatorian Kamron Call. Two musical selections were performed: “Lean on Me,” sung by the Sounds Grand school choir; and the Beatles hit “Come Together,” performed by a four-man band comprised of students Dexter Sheets, Kris Kemp, Garrett Brown, and Alec Tatton.
During her short remarks, Lopez quipped that the graduation speeches should be like a mini-skirt: “long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep things interesting.” Lopez also mentioned the school-wide theme that was emphasized throughout the school year, “Be a Red Devil.” She encouraged her fellow students to join her in being proud to be students and alumni of Grand County High.
Call opened his speech by joking that it was “salutatory,” and not a “salute to Torrie.” He said his high school years had seemingly slipped away “like a dream,” and then recited a poem he had written about the passage of time. Call also reminded his fellow students that the word “commencement” signifies a beginning, rather than an end.
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, and not a second-rate version of someone else,” Call said, citing a quote by singer and actress Judy Garland.
He offered a challenge to his classmates as he concluded the speech. “Find your source of strength and don’t ever let it go,” he said.
Larsen, this year’s valedictorian and also the president of the Class of 2013, took on the “monumental task of saying goodbye” during her speech. She thanked several teachers by name, often dropping in short humorous anecdotes. She also thanked school administrators and staff, including lunch ladies and janitors, in addition to parents, family members, and the many other people throughout the community who have supported education throughout the years.
But even as the seniors collectively say goodbye to high school, they are also saying hello to future potential, Larsen observed.
“We are excited to take charge of our lives,” Larsen said, encouraging her fellow students to make a memorable mark on the world. She then quoted poet Charles Bukowski: “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
Reiterating the class theme, Larsen summed up her thoughts by saying, “It’s time for us to cast our own shadows on the landscape of the future.”
According to GCHS officials, a total of 86 seniors from the Class of 2013 earned diplomas this year, but for various reasons four chose not to participate in the commencement ceremony. In addition, two or three others lacked sufficient credits to graduate, but are expected to make up the needed course work and receive their GED diplomas later.