Thousands of parents and friends filled the George Mason University Patriot Center Thursday afternoon to watch this year’s Oakton High School graduates as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.
Oakton Principal Charles Ostlund handed out the diplomas, and was also the guest speaker at the ceremony.
"When I told her I would be speaking, my wife said that generally only happens when they can’t find someone else," said the first-year principal.
As he spoke, Ostlund described the difficulty he encountered when he sat down to write his speech. He read inspirational words from speakers as varied as Winston Churchill, who said to never give up, and Audrey Hepburn, who said inner beauty is what matters. He made a mnemonic out of the letters in the name of the school mascot, the Cougars. He said the students were Caring, Outstanding, Understanding, Grateful, had good Attitudes, were Responsible and were not afraid to be their individual Selves.
"But then I thought no, that’s not quite good enough," Ostlund said.
THE FORMER HIGH school coach tried to think of sports analogies that might apply to the graduates. He compared life to a mile run, with high school graduation being the first of four laps. But he dismissed that comparison, saying that he graduated high school many years ago, but still didn’t feel like he had finished his first lap.
So he turned the graduation into a pep rally, challenging the crowd to raise the arena’s decibel meter as high as possible.
"Who’s the best school?" Ostlund yelled into the microphone.
"Oakton," said the crowd.
"Who’s the best class?" Ostlund asked.
"2002," came the response.
"Say Hallelujah," Ostlund said.
"Hallelujah," said the crowd.
Ostlund joked that in 20 years, when someone asks the graduates what their high school speaker said, they can say, "I don’t remember what he said, but he had 3,000 people saying hallelujah."
Ostlund ended the speech by combining all his different speech ideas into one.
"So here I am, stuck, with nothing to say," Ostlund said. "But you should never give up, hold on to good sense, inner beauty is what matters and never forget you are a Cougar."
After the ceremony the graduates, more than 600 of them, poured out of the arena. As Calisha Wright passed by the seating area, her friends Sierra McPhaul and Tamara Johnson passed her a bouquet of flowers.
"This just feels really good," McPhaul said.