High school graduations tend to be a mix of fanfare and frivolity, and Corvallis High’s 2019 commencement ceremony, held Friday night at Oregon State University’s Gill Coliseum, had plenty of both.
While the school wind ensemble played endless bars of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the school’s 339 graduating seniors walked out two by two in their royal blue gowns and caps. Many wore colorful flower leis or Mardi Gras beads around their necks, and quite a few bedazzled their mortarboards with rhinestones, glitter, photographs, the names of their college destinations, random objects such as a stuffed bird or pint-sized disco ball, or inspirational quotes such as “Mom, I have a tattoo.”
As always, student speakers cracked jokes and celebrated the accomplishments of the school year, such as the state titles won by the girls volleyball team, the boys soccer team and, for the fifth year in a row, the girls tennis team, or the $80,000-plus raised for charity by this year’s Mr. and Ms. Spartan competition.
And, as always, adults offered plenty of advice to the graduating class.
Principal Matt Boring got first crack at that.
“This year’s advice is simple in theory but quite difficult in practice,” he said. “Think before you speak.”
Boring said he found that advice on a poster that offered three questions to ask yourself before blurting out your thoughts: Is it true? Is it necessary? And is it kind?
To which he added a fourth question of his own: Is it said in a manner in which the person who actually needs to hear it can take it in?
“That’s the key,” Boring said.
Tempering your raw opinions with kindness and good judgment won’t always be easy, he told the seniors, but it’s the right thing to do.
“You can do it,” he assured them. “You have the honesty and character to save us from ourselves.”
Counselor Cathy Wright had a request. She asked the graduates to show kindness — to one another, to the world at large and especially to their teachers, who might need it more than they can imagine.
“Write a note of appreciation to an educator who made a difference in your life, no matter what might have been going on in theirs,” she said.
“What you might not know is educators keep those notes for years. And during the tough times — and, believe me, there are some really tough times — they make a difference.”
Christopher Eisgruber, a 1979 Corvallis High grad who is now president of Princeton University, delivered the commencement address.
Though he wasn’t a star athlete at Corvallis High, Eisgruber led the school’s chess team to a national championship. He shared some fond memories of that glorious season, including the day two of the school’s cheerleaders came out to spur the team to victory — “perhaps the first time in American history that cheerleaders showed up at a chess match.”
“I’m very proud of what that team did,” he said. “But it’s not so obvious why championships matter — because they don’t really make the world a better place.”
On reflection, Eisgruber said, he’s decided that what makes a championship important is the shared effort that goes into it, and the personal connections made along the way.
“Human beings find meaning in collective projects that bring us together around demanding goals,” he said. “That’s why we celebrate championship seasons.”
It might be tempting, he added, to believe that we can make meaningful connections through texting or social media, but that’s an illusion.
“Digital interactions are like sugary food,” he said. “They fill you up enough to make you feel like you’ve eaten, but not enough to nourish your spirit or your soul.”
Instead, he urged the seniors to focus on genuine human interactions — and especially on projects they share with others with the goal of making the world a better place.
“There are a lot of ways to make a difference,” he said, “and they don’t have to be grand or newsworthy.”