By Thomas J. McKillen
The students in the Hamilton High School Class of 2014 entered the school’s gym at 1 p.m. June 14 and left as graduates just under two hours later.
Among the speakers during the program was Anna Hogsten, an exchange student from Sweden. Hogsten recalled coming to the area last fall.
Hogsten said that after an initial culture shock she went to classes and experienced American events Thanksgiving, Black Friday, “extreme Christmas decorations,” homecoming and spirit week.
“When winter came and as a skier back home, I thought I knew what winter meant — turns out I didn’t,” Hogsten said. “Never, ever in my life has my school been closed because of cold day, nor have I ever had ski practice in -55 degrees. But I have to say I enjoyed it.”
She described the year as the most challenging and rewarding year of her life.
“In the end, everything I miss from home is not even comparable to what I gained while being here,” she said. “A year has passed and I now stand on the brink of returning to the world where I grew up. In six days, I will leave my family and my friends only to return to my family and friends.”
In her comments, Salutatorian Danielle Draggoo thanked her classmates “for being my competition, my support and my friends. I’d like to thank my teachers for pushing me to work hard, no matter how much I’ve already been pushed.”
Draggoo said that “passion” unites the class.
“Hamilton High School has provided us with (many avenues) of opportunity to explore and express those passions,” Draggoo said.
She explained the passion was channeled through work in classes and extracurricular activities.
“In this way, we were able to start pining up on the things we enjoy. We were able to start piecing our identities together,” Draggoo said.
Draggoo said she came to learn to love math and science, which led her to an interest in the medical field. Outside the classroom, she focused on softball.
Draggoo added that “everyone has a passion for something” but that something is different for each person.
“For this reason, passion differentiates us, gives us identity. I feel that Hamilton has not only allowed me but all of you to discover your passion as well. Each of you has discovered something that you love to do,” Draggoo said.
Valedictorian Madison Czerwinski challenged that “today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
“Guess what guys? Success is not guaranteed and this moment will most likely not be a moment that defines your future,” she said.
Czerwinski asked fellow students to imagine they all become famous and then are asked about “the critical moment” that determined where they are today.
“Never stop imagining that moment. Do it today, do it tomorrow, do it every day,” Czerwinski said.
The education from elementary school to high school is completed, and Czerwinski said “the training wheels have been taken off the bike and you are free to cross the street and furthermore go wherever you want.”
While every student needs to seek their own path, the path may be unclear for many at the moment, she said.
“We all need to find that place on our own, and that only be done by exploring and seeking out opportunities,” Czerwinski said.
She then added: “Today is the first day of many future successes but only for those of us who reach for them. Overcome fear, resist complacency, oppose the roles given to you by others, have the fortitude to stumble, fall and then try again.”