PALMETTO -- Harley Davidson riding science teacher Steven Foster with his shoulder-length white mop of hair and his Colonel Sanders looking goatee offered a commencement speech to Southeast High School graduates Wednesday that was filled with humor, advice, memories and finally love.
Foster, chairman of the science department, was chosen by the graduating class to speak during the commencement exercises that took place at the Manatee County Convention and Civic Center. The packed center filled with parents, family, friends and loved ones had just finished yelling out their respective graduates’ names when Foster went to the podium.
He explained that he was a rebel and halfheartedly said, “you may call me a rebel.”
When no words came from the austere class, Foster said, “No really call me a rebel.”
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“You’re a rebel” the 196 graduating seniors bellowed in unison.
But it was that “rebel” demeanor that gave the seniors a going away unlike any other. He told them that most people called the event a graduation. Due to definition, he disagreed. He said to commence means to begin and that’s what he said they were doing. He told the group to “make decisions wisely.” Then he reminded them of their past obstacles including financial hardships, dysfunctional families or difficulties learning English.
“All of you persevered and overcame your own personal obstacles,” he said.
But to move forward he asked them “not to be something in which life happens.”
“I challenge you to dream big,” he said. “Big dreams require big risks. When life knocks you down, rise up and soar class of 2011.”
His advice was echoed by two others given the honor of speaking to the class. Students Yatrik Solanki and Amber Wolabaugh were named the Gold Feather recipients meaning they were assigned to speak to their peers for the occasion.
Solanki told the group, “I urge you to find purpose in your life and goals.”
Wolabaugh said, “We’ve experienced something together that can never be repeated.”
Senior Class President Jessica Holt said, “Tonight we celebrate an ending as well as a beginning.”
To launch that beginning, the dais was filled with administrators, school board members, Manatee County School Superintendent Tim McGonegal and others. But to take some sting out of the seriousness of the huge journey students are about to take, Foster offered a different view.
“The renown philosopher Forrest Gump says, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get’” Foster said recalling the Tom Hanks movie. “True-Dat!”
Then, he offered ways to get around the unknowns: “protect our environment, laugh often and love unconditionally,” he said.