Lawrence High School senior Perrin Goulter opened up his speech to 339 fellow graduates in the Class of 2023 by thanking Lawrence High — not the community, he said, but the building itself.
“This year we recorded a record low number of ceiling leaks, which is arguably a bigger accomplishment than us making it to graduation,” Goulter said.
The joke was not only praise for the work done to transform the high school, but also served as a picture of the class of 2023. The graduates found themselves, like the school building, thrown into disarray during their high school years.
But the building and graduates had one thing in common: they made it through the challenges stronger than before.
Persevering through difficulty was the theme of the night for the class of 2023 as they celebrated the end of their high school years. From construction to a global pandemic, their high school experience was not as they expected it to be.
Lawrence High senior speaker Inila Brave, Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Lakota, spoke about how the same unpredictable and unprecedented four years that made high school difficult also helped prepare the Class of 2023 for the world that lies ahead.
“Wondering what this new world will show us is inevitable,” she said. “But looking back at what we have already accomplished can help us with the dirty, ugly and hard [parts] of this same world. These were the moments we saw our true selves.”
But the ability to adapt to these new circumstances is what will make the class stand out as they move into the world and across the country, Brave said.
“This is not a goodbye, but more of an ‘I’ll see you soon,’” Brave said. “Welcome this new journey with open arms, Lawrence High, and say hello to this new world.”
Superintendent Anthony Lewis congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to remember all those who made it possible for them.
“You have made it, graduates, but guess what? You didn’t do it alone,” Lewis said. “… Never forget those that have paved the way for you, and don’t forget to pave the way for others.”
Lawrence High School Associate Principal Mark Preut recognized the students wearing yellow cords signifying their status in the top 10% of students academically. He also recognized the students donning red stoles, signifying their membership in the National Honor Society.
Finally, he recognized the class of 2023 valedictorians, students who received a 4.0 GPA through high school.
Sarah Bills, who was named a valedictorian, won the 2023 Citizen of the Year award as voted by her classmates.
Matt Ellis, who recently won the Wolfe Teaching Excellence Award, was named Teacher of the Year.
Valerie Schrag, who recently won the annual Bobs Award, also won Teacher of the Year honors.
School board President Shannon Kimball, who has a child graduating in the district this year, wished the LHS class of 2023 on with the same message she’d give her own child.
“I wish for you to find happiness in whatever it is you choose to do next; I wish for you to find family and community that support and truly love you for who you really are,” Kimball said. “And I wish for you to do good in this world, because right now more than ever we need people like each of you, people of strength, integrity and empathy, doing good for all of us.”
Lawrence High School Principal Jessica Bassett, who is leaving at the end of this year, praised the hard work and perseverance of the Class of 2023.
“Thank you for allowing me to be your principal, and thank you for demonstrating daily what it means to be a Chesty Lion,” she said.
At the end of his humor-filled speech, Goulter praised how every Lawrence High student was united by their uniqueness and all had something special that marked them and their high school careers.
He encouraged the graduates to always put their authentic selves first, and see the exciting places it takes them.
“And don’t forget about me,” Goulter said. “It would make me happy to know that you all think about me every once in a while.”
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of this work for the Times here.