As they graduated Saturday night, the class of 2012 from William E. Hay Composite High School received a road map of sorts for their milestone journey.
Colourful signs were posted in each of the two dressing rooms from which the 131 graduates paraded into the Stettler Recreation Centre arena for the graduation exercises and again for the grand march.
The last-minute tips ranged from practical to supportive words of encouragement. “Leave your cellphones in here,” instructed one sign.
“Go pee now,” suggested another.
“Is your zipper up?”
The primers included pep-talk signs, too.
“Walk tall,” read one message.
The timely advice helped the William E. Hay graduates celebrate the time of their lives in the company of teachers, family and friends. Most of those people were influential in charting the first phase of the graduates’ lives.
For the face of William E. Hay, principal Norbert Baharally, it was a doubly special night, as his daughter Alicia was one of the graduates.
Just six days before their graduation, Alicia Baharally and Emily Chapman — the valedictorian — ran a half-marathon in Red Deer.
In the marathon of life, the William E. Hay graduates hope they’re now braced for the next phase of their lives.
Many of them have already distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, arts and other school and community activities. All of those achievements, such as the Wildcats’ provincial football title last fall, are often that much more pronounced in small towns like Stettler.
In many cases, rural communities must overcome perceived travel, infrastructure and population limitations to compete with the bigger centres.
But there are no restrictions when it comes to spirit. In fact, small-town pride can be advantageous and a catalyst for personal and community accomplishments.
Last Friday night, as she was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, Olympic swimmer Barb Clark Parolin credited her Stettler years as most influential in her winning a bronze medal at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. She’s been a longtime teacher in Leduc, but she continues to have a strong affinity for her childhood home of Stettler, where she began swimming while her father was a school principal in this town.
Small towns can indeed produce champions in life, whether it’s on a national or international stage, or as in most cases, close to home. From my hometown graduation class, three decades ago, came a multiple Juno award-winner, along with folks from many other walks of life.
Last weekend, attending graduation ceremonies in Castor and Stettler on back-to-back nights, it was interesting to contrast the two gatherings. It seemed the entire town of Castor packed into the Gus Wetter School gym to celebrate prom night for 28 seniors, each of whom was singled out on a truly personal level. In the Stettler ceremony at the spacious arena, the graduation class was appreciably greater in size, yet the theme for the night was “Small Town, Big Dreams.”
Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. Stettler is indeed small when compared to sprawling city centres, but it need not take a backseat to those cities in the quality of education and life that it offers central Alberta residents.
The reality is that the graduates of 2012 will make an impact in both small and big towns, and that neither residency will be the sole determinant of achievement and happiness. The most applicable path to long-term success and contentment is personal commitment and sacrifice.
“Pain is temporary, victory is forever,” is the mantra of many teams in pursuit of a championship. And it’s a fitting farewell message for the graduates.
For now, it’s time to “walk tall” and “have fun.”
— John MacNeil