2017 Valedictory Speech

Cary Christian School’s class of 2017 graduated on May 18. This year our salutatorian was Casey Fitzgerald and our valedictorian was Ryan Stikeleather. These two students exemplify the kind of young men and women that a classical Christian education strives to cultivate.

I would like to begin by thanking some of the many people who have dedicated themselves to getting us to this point. Thank you to the amazing teachers, whether or not they are here tonight, who have given us so much love and guidance over the years. Thank you to Mr. Baker and Mr. Cook for their vision and wisdom in always pointing us in the right direction, and thanks to all of our parents and families who have supported and encouraged us throughout our lives. A huge thank you goes to all of you for making some of the best memories I will have for the rest of my life, from singing 10,000 Reasons on the mountainside in Costa Rica to being accused of being the mafia every single time we played the game (which was usually true). And of course, the greatest thanks has to go to the God who created us and brought us all here together.

The evangelist Dwight L. Moody once said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” Over the past thirteen years, we have expanded our knowledge and abilities in order to succeed in whatever it is that we choose to pursue further along the road. Mr. Bates has taught us to take the derivative of the natural log of x5, Mrs. McDonald showed us how to dissect a cow’s eye, and Mr. Halbrook has had us teach elementary schoolers about tanks and scandals for history day. We’ve won championships, performed in shows and concerts, and defended our positions on some of the most controversial topics of our time, such as the correct pronunciation of the word “p-e-c-a-n” or how important it is to read about invisible men. But now that all the experience we’ve gained in so many areas needs to be put to work, how can we be sure that the things we choose to do actually mean something?

In a movie that I know many of you, especially Brandon, really know and love entitled The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Gwen Stacy, who is Peter Parker’s girlfriend in the series, stands in the same position that I have before you tonight for the graduating class of Midtown Science High. Despite whatever opinions you may have about the movie as a whole, Gwen says something in her valedictory speech that goes along perfectly with Moody’s idea of succeeding at something that matters. “My wish for you,” she says, “is to become hope. People need that. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live?” Of course, none of us are web-slinging superheroes, at least as far as I know, but like Peter Parker, we are still called to do something that shows the world hope because our foundation is in the ultimate hope of Christ.

Here at CCS, we’ve learned how to think. We now know how to evaluate problems and find solutions that line up with Scripture. If we go out into the world and apply this type of thinking, we have the potential to be successful in a vast variety of ways. I challenge you to make that success meaningful. Don’t throw your energy and passion into something without considering what effects that thing will have, because all of you have the ability to make a tangible difference for the good of others. As Mr. Bates reminded many of us last week, we need to keep in mind Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Not only should we think about these things, but we should do everything we can to live them out, because doing so will always lead us to issues that actually matter.

Living for the good and pure is not some impossible goal, either. I’ve already seen all of you live this way, loving kids in Costa Rica, strengthening each other through difficult events and experiences, and being willing to serve the community around us through so many kinds of opportunities. Of course there will be failure, even in the worthwhile things we attempt, but there’s no need to be afraid of it. If the things of God are always before us as the hope and vision we strive for, I would repeat to you Gwen Stacy’s question: What better way is there to live?

We’re getting ready to leave this community and move on to something totally new. We’ll be spread out from Zach up in Rhode Island and Bella in New York to Joel in Indiana and John and Will down in South Carolina. Wherever we go, though, we can never lose sight of what’s important. Pursue success in something that really matters, something that extends hope to the world around you even when failures come. Remember that night in Costa Rica where we shared our love for one another or any time you have felt encouraged by someone here, and look for opportunities to give the same encouragement to others who may not yet know the hope of Christ. We don’t know God’s plan for our lives yet, but we do know we can trust Him and follow wherever He leads, because the places He guides us will always be meaningful.

In a campaign speech in Raleigh in 1960, John F. Kennedy said that “efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” I believe this statement to be very true, another wise warning against succeeding at something that doesn’t matter. I know you all have the courage and abilities to do well at so many things, but not all of those things will be the most fruitful for the world around you. As you move forward, seek out the things God calls you to that give hope to the hopeless, and find the purpose that you are made to put your efforts into.

I love you all, and thank you so much for this amazing journey we’ve had at Cary Christian!