Fairfax High School's guest speaker at the 2006 commencement ceremony has a resume that includes titles such as National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. He also has a Purple Heart and many other prestigious military awards.
"How amazing was that speech," said Jonathan Koehmstedt, Fairfax High School senior class treasurer. "I know I was touched."
Gen. Colin Powell graced the stage at Fairfax High School, Thursday, June 15, to speak to graduates about their transition into a new phase of their lives. He told anecdotes of his own successes and failures and commended students for their hard work and ambition.
"I'm the last hurdle until you get your diploma," said Powell.
BEFORE THE CEREMONY, students and teachers waited in the auditorium as guests filled the gymnasium. Excitement and anticipation filled the room of soon-to-be graduates. The name "Colin Powell" was heard throughout the room.
"I'm excited to hear Colin Powell speak," said Tina Wheeler, one of Fairfax's 14 valedictorians.
This class of seniors is special, said Cindy Crumb, an orchestra teacher at Fairfax High School and Lanier Middle School, which is why they deserved a special speaker. Crumb has taught most of the students since their days as middle school students at Lanier, and she said she won't forget them.
"I will miss them," said Crumb. "They always come back to see me though."
After the students and distinguished guests entered the room to sounds from the Fairfax High School Band, Powell sat front and center on the stage. Dr. Scott Brabrand welcomed guests and thanked faculty and students for making his first year as principal a memorable one. He also told them to never lose focus of their goals.
"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," said Brabrand, joking about how he has told students this same piece of advice all year long. "You are the main thing."
Following Brabrand, the senior class president, Kirk Benedict, proudly came to the stage to introduce the star of the ceremony.
"There's no man I admire more and respect than Gen. Powell," said Benedict. "He's served at a critical time in our lives and in America's history."
Powell approached the microphone to a standing ovation in the packed gymnasium. Camera lights were flashing as the room went silent to listen to his speech. He said he hurried to Fairfax for the event, after nearly convincing President Bush to leave a Washington summit to join him in the Fairfax High School gymnasium.
"You are the leaders of this next phase of American life," said Powell. "The problems we are dealing with now are not going to be solved by us, they're going to be solved by you."
Powell highlighted some main values and lessons he said he wanted students to live their lives by. From living a life of service to making sure to be kind to all, Powell told students to exude honor in every way possible.
Powell wanted students to realize it was OK to live with failure. He warned of pointing blame on others, telling graduates there are no excuses for making excuses. Goals every student should strive toward should include having character, a sense of shame, a life full of virtue and excellence, said Powell. He then borrowed some words from Brabrand when he told students to listen to their principal's advice, by "making the main the main thing."
"It's a world waiting for you to make your contribution," said Powell.
WHILE MAKING many points about leading fruitful lives after high school, Powell's central theme focused on service. He stressed the importance of giving something back, and the honor of helping others in meaningful ways.
"Make sure you put in your heart the concept of service to others," said Powell. "Live a life of service to others."
Service is something graduate Molly Hope knows all too well. Hope won two of the four senior awards given at the ceremony. She was chosen by her classmates as the winner of the Outstanding Service Award, for the time and effort she gave to the school. Faculty members picked Hope as the Faculty Award winner, for her involvement in sports, leadership and student government. Hope said she was surprised when she heard her name called for the first award, and couldn't believe it when she was called up for the second award.
"It was a complete honor and a really great feeling," said Hope, after the ceremony. "It's a good way to end the year."
One of the 14 valedictorians spoke on behalf of all of them, continuing in the theme of inspirational advice to graduates. Erin Clark told her fellow classmates to take on the responsibility of change, and "to make everyday a glory day."
"Life is what you make of it," said Clark. "If it doesn't fit, make alterations."