When Christopher Cox first came to South Lakes High School, he vowed “to blend in as much as possible.” Standing out, he thought, would lead to social suicide.
But he was wrong about high school, just as many are wrong when it comes to South Lakes, he said.
When Cox “graduated” from Sunrise Valley Elementary School, he remembered parents talking about pulling their children out of public school to avoid South Lakes, a high school he said continues to be maligned by spurious representations.
“Is it our depressing building?” he said, referring to ongoing renovations as a possible reason South Lakes gets a bad rap. “Is it our student diversity?”
Those hung up on the school's unwarranted stereotype will never know its true character, said Cox, student speaker at South Lakes’ graduation commencement last week.
Cox, whose eyes swelled with tears while thanking hundreds of parents sitting in the bleachers of the school’s gym, said South Lakes is the county’s best-kept secret. “Our parents made the right decision.”
“One’s appearance is not representative of one’s character,” said Cox, adding that the axiom is a lesson learned by every student at South Lakes.
In a speech that applauded the school’s diversity, Cox told his fellow classmates Thursday afternoon to spread the message of acceptance and tolerance as they begin the next step in their lives. “We will become the change we want to see in the world,” he said.
THREE-HUNDRED and forty students, whose eyes blurred under the glare of flashbulbs and whose ears rang from the squeals of air horns, walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, afterwards flipping tassels from right to left.
“It’s 12 years all come down to one day,” said Amir Javeed just minutes before graduating.
“Yeah, we’re going to remember this day for the rest of our lives,” said Nicholas Jacklin, a senior from Australia who has attended South Lakes the last two years. In Australia, he said, there is no ceremony. “But this better. [Graduation] is a pretty big deal,” said Jacklin.
While most seniors chose the traditional, nonchalant walk across the stage, others preferred something more flamboyant.
Chelsea Gray skipped across with her arms pumping. Jessica Javor stuck out her tongue to her classmates. Erin Pishotti displayed peace signs. And Rita Tigerman did an abridged version of the “running man” dance move before reaching the other end of the stage to pick up her diploma.
Wearing aviator shades, Alex Cline did a one-step glide across the stage reminiscent of an M.C. Hammer shimmy. “I’m going to shake my groove-thing, and you can quote me on that,” he declared as he lined up outside the gym a few minutes prior to the commencement.
BEFORE TOSSING their caps, students sat attentively during the time-honored tradition of listening to the advice of a faculty and guest speaker.
Antony Sharp, a popular math teacher originally from England and trained in astronomics, regaled the crowd with his accent and a personal tale of climbing a mountain. Sharp told students how he suffered a 30-foot fall without getting injured. “I felt completely invincible,” said Sharp, who then made the transition to a recommendation on life. “Try to see the world in a different way than anybody else,” he said.
For their featured guest speaker, the class chose Mark Penn, the class’s former assistant principal who is now an assistant principal at Oakton.
Penn’s speech, which stressed goal setting, attitude and hardwork, incorporated motivational quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Bertrand Russell, Dr. Suess, Cicero, John F. Kennedy and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name a few. “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you,” said Penn, quoting Suess.
Penn pointed out that the class has nearly 300 students committed to a college or university and will receive $2.5 million in scholarships.
While the celebration would continue later that night at the All-Night Graduation party, in the end students realized that it was time to move on, as articulated by Cox. “Stick a fork in us, we’re done,” said Cox, concluding his speech to a standing ovation.