Photos added at 5:12 p.m. Saturday, May 21:
Dozens of Lawrence Virtual School graduates crossed the stage to collect their diplomas Saturday, and dozens of others not present in person were celebrated along with them.
Leah Wisdom, director of instruction and professional development for Lawrence Public Schools, gave the keynote address. She said her life plans began to take shape when she was very young — she knew she’d be a writer, a journalist and an author of books.
But things didn’t quite go as planned. She failed her first semester of college, and she became a mother at a very young age, she said.
“I found myself a bit disoriented because my plans and my journey were shifting without my permission,” she said.
Plans provide us with a roadmap and make us feel safe and secure, but we have fears of things not working out — and sometimes they just don’t, Wisdom said.
She encouraged the students to embrace their journey, even when things don’t go as planned.
“Advocate for yourself and for those that cannot advocate for themselves. Be bold, be brave. Be courageous, and be your absolute best,” Wisdom said.
“And remember, it’s not going to turn out the way you planned. It’s going to turn out better.”
Graduate Tiana Smith plans to attend Washburn Univerity and major in mass media with an emphasis in public relations.
“I have always been known as the sick child. Because of this, I hated school,” Smith began in her speech to her classmates. “I hated attendance points. I hated the pizza parties kids would get while I had to sit alone in the library because I was the only one who missed more than five days of school.”
She missed weeks of school at a time, and she said friends would torment her when she was finally able to return.
In 2015, her mother enrolled her in Lawrence Virtual School, and at first, she was terrified, she said.
“It was a weird adjustment to see names on the screen, but for once there were no whispers when I entered the classroom.”
And within a few weeks, she got to meet some of those names on the screen at different field trips, Smith said. She got to learn her classmates’ stories, and felt as though she finally fit in.
“Some share my story. Some are dedicated to sports. Some are constantly moving to different countries. Yet we all have one thing in common — technical difficulties are the bane of our existence,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
But no matter what your story is, “LVS has always been a place where everyone can find a home,” she said.
“I met students who helped me realize my full potential. They encouraged me to pursue leadership opportunities, and they made me realize that nothing was impossible,” she said.
LeiLoni De Pew, class salutatorian, is heading to the University of Utah to double major in theatre education and deaf education.
Filling her speech with quotes and allusions to stories and fairy tales, she told her classmates to never forget the stories they have learned, and to use them to create their own stories.
“The thing that makes a hero is their ability to persevere and to keep moving forward, even when things get hard. Don’t underestimate yourself,” she said.
Like Cinderella, Nemo and other beloved characters, she said, “we need to leave our homes and discover who we truly are.”
“You are the one who can fill the world with sunshine,” she said. “You know exactly where you are going. Have faith in your dreams.”
Photos by Molly Adams
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.