"In this community ... we hear people talking a lot about debt," former U.S. Rep. of Oklahoma J.C. Watts told the 520 Oakton High School graduates gathered at the Patriot Center Tuesday morning.
"Somebody along the way has touched and impacted your life in a positive way," said Watts. "You owe them all a tremendous debt." He pointed out that the graduates also owed a debt to themselves for the struggles they had overcome to arrive at graduation day. How could they bring their lives' ledgers back into the black?
Watts related the anxiety he had felt as a father of five on various Christmas Eves, struggling to assemble a Strawberry Shortcake dollhouse or other such construction before his children awoke. He said he had asked other parents who had found themselves in similar situations, whether it was the assembly instructions or the glue that was most important at 5:30 Christmas morning. Most, he said, chose the directions. A few chose the glue.
Watts, however, held that the most important thing was the picture on the box that illustrated what the dollhouse was supposed to look like.
To repay their debt to society and to themselves, Watts told the former students, "paint a picture every day, for those around you, of what it's supposed to look like," whether "it" be the life of a parent, a coach, a volunteer or any other role model.
He encouraged his audience to explore, dream and discover and to remember that their diploma "is your pencil to make your mark on the world."
Graduate Tyler Morris gave classmates a look back on their high school years, invoking the adage, "In order to get where you're going, you have to remember where you came from." Morris recalled Oakton High School's immense proportions on the first day of freshman year, the snow days, science fairs, "dreaded" SOL tests and other shared memories. He also invoked the class's many accomplishments in the sports arena, including the school's first-ever state football championship.
Most importantly, said Morris, he wanted classmates to remember the relationships they had shared. "We built bonds that will last a lifetime and friendships that will change us forever," he said.
As for the future, "If the last four years are any indication, I think you'll do just fine," he concluded.
"You could call this the age of anxiety," graduate Kathryn Pocalyko began a speech that looked toward the future. She noted that her class began high school in the shadow of 9/11, "loaded with anxiety," and now looked toward an uncertain future. But she cited William Strauss and Neil Howe's book, "Generations," which, she said, categorized her class as part of a "heroic" generation.
"Ordinary people become heroes when they face uncertainty with strength and knowledge," said Pocalyko. "Our challenge is to be a generation of heroes." In order to fulfill this tall order, she said, "we have to live our lives for others." Pocalyko said her class could choose to feel either a sense of entitlement toward its country or a sense of obligation toward its world.