Go forth and change the world

Class of 2019 – You grew up in a special time – wearing skinny jeans & jeggings, heelys, crocs (with jibbitz), uggs and livestrong bracelets. You played with an xBox 360, razor scooters, zhu zhu pets, and bratz dolls. Did you have an iPod touch? Or a club penguin membership? Did you read magic treehouse or junie b jones books? Do you still listen to the High School Musical soundtrack?

We call you digital natives. Your resumes are found on Instagram. You learned keyboarding skills on a desktop in the computer lab while checking your assignments on Schoology. You spend more time online than any other generation, yet you still value face-to-face interactions more than any other kinds of communication. The experts say you are more likely to feel isolated. You possess an entrepreneurial spirit. You like to volunteer. You are going to college to learn more about things that interest you. You have had your heart broken by school shootings and climate change, yet you believe you can change the world. We believe you can, too. 

The fact is, others will try to define you; define you as a generation or as individuals. But you will not be defined by the pundits, the critics, or the naysayers. When you try to change the world, or anything in it, you will meet resistance and criticism. Remember, anybody can criticize, but creating something of value is significantly more difficult. Do not let the world’s critics keep you from creating something of value.

And so to the Class of 2019, I offer you this final tribute, on behalf of the faculty, staff, and leadership of Mount Vernon. The familiar words of Theodore Roosevelt, who reminds us through the ages…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the {one} who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man {or woman} who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who {falls} short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but {the credit belongs to the one} who actually strives to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends him {or herself} in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

God bless you, Class of 2019. Go forth and change the world.  

Chip Houston
Head of Upper School

Class of 2019 College ACCEPTANCES

Bolded Location Denotes Student Attendance

American University
Arizona State University
Auburn University
Augusta University
Barry University
Baylor University
Belmont University
Berry College
Boston University
Brenau University
Brown University
Bucknell University
Clemson University
College of Coastal Georgia
Converse College
Covenant College
Drexel University
Elon University
Emerson College
Florida Atlantic University
Florida State University (2)
Furman University
Georgia College (2)
Georgia Institute of Technology (5)
Georgia Southern University (3)
Georgia Southwestern State University
Georgia State University
Hampton University
High Point University
James Madison University
Kennesaw State University

Lafayette College
Lipscomb University
Louisiana State University
Loyola Marymount University
Loyola University New Orleans
Mercer University
Miami University, Oxford
Michigan State University
Milligan College
Mount Saint Mary’s University
New York University
North Carolina Central University
North Carolina State University
Northeastern University
Pennsylvania State University
Pepperdine University
Purdue University
Reinhardt University
Rhodes College
Samford University
Santa Clara University
Seattle Pacific University
Sewanee: The University of the South
Simmons University
Southeastern Louisiana University
Southern Methodist University
Texas Christian University (2)
The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina
The George Washington University
The New School

The University of Alabama
The University of Arizona
The University of Tampa
The University of Texas, Austin
The University of West Georgia
Tulane University
United States Naval Academy
University of Colorado at Boulder (2)
University of Colorado at Denver
University of Connecticut
University of Delaware
University of Denver
University of Florida
University of Georgia (9)
University of Kansas
University of Kentucky (3)
University of Miami
University of Mississippi
University of North Carolina at Asheville
University of North Georgia
University of Pikeville
University of South Carolina (2)
University of Tennessee, Knoxville (4)
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest University (3)
Washington and Lee University
Washington State University
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Xavier University

Valedictory Speech - Mark Grove

Good morning, Head of School Dr. Jacobsen, distinguished Board of Trustees, my fellow classmates, and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School faculty and staff. Thank you for the honor of speaking before you today. Good morning, also, to all of the parents, families, and friends of graduates. Thank you for being here with us as we celebrate the graduation of the Mount Vernon Class of 2019!

First of all, I would like to congratulate each and every one of my fellow classmates on surviving all the way to graduation. I wasn’t completely convinced this day would ever come until I was tasked with writing this speech just a few weeks ago. The day we have been looking forward to for months has finally arrived. Today marks the end of our days as high school students, and the beginning of the next chapter of our lives.

The last four years have been well spent, finding our passions and having fun with each other in and out of the classroom. As most of you know, I have attended Mount Vernon since I was only 3 years old, and I have had the pleasure of getting to know most all of you throughout my years at this school. I have literally grown up here, and it is a great honor to be able to speak in front of you all today.

As I began writing this speech, I spent countless hours staring at my computer screen, but I just couldn’t write anything down. In fact, I spent over three hours writing the introduction up to this point. I felt like everything I said had to be perfect.

Clearly, this strategy of writing a speech did not work out. I eventually realized that it doesn’t matter what I talk about because the truth is that nothing I could ever say or do could accurately describe how I feel about these people and this place.

The point I’m trying to make here is that nobody’s perfect and we all struggle sometimes. No matter what, our futures will be laden with obstacles that we must overcome to succeed.

College is an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar people where you are tasked with standing out among thousands of other students just like you. You will most definitely make mistakes along the way, but what matters is what you do with those mistakes. You can either let them define you, or you can learn from them so you don’t make the same mistakes again.

When I tried out for soccer sophomore year, after playing on varsity as a freshman, I assumed I’d make the team. That winter, I found out that I’d been cut. There I was at Dollywood, and I felt the wind literally get knocked out from me. I’d always played soccer and the suddenly ……I just wasn’t good enough anymore. Luckily, my friends quickly found a way to cheer me up. They were playing on the new Mount Vernon Lacrosse team and encouraged me to try out. So I did. I showed up to tryouts with no stick and absolutely no idea what I was doing. But three years later, I wouldn’t trade my lacrosse experience for anything. Being part of an inaugural team made all our highs and lows even sweeter, and I feel closer to my friends now that we’ve shared this experience. If I hadn’t been cut from soccer, I would have missed the valuable lesson of pushing myself to try new things. And now I know that I really can bounce back when something in life gets me down. Throughout college, each and every one of you will be faced with new opportunities that you may be anxious to try out.

The advice I have for you is to put in effort to experience new things and never give up on yourself. Don’t be afraid of failure, because failure leads to growth as an individual and progress towards your goals. What have we been taught all these years at Mount Vernon? If you’re going to fail, fail up! (hehe)

College provides an opportunity to further discover yourself and have a lasting effect on your community. No matter who you are or where you end up on the map, the honest truth is that you can make an impact. We all contain within us both the desire and the means to succeed in this next stage of our lives. It is time for us to pursue our dreams and build the future as we wish.

We will all inevitably face things after high school that knock the wind out of our sails. We aren’t naive enough to think that everything in life will go our way. But when something knocks you down, I hope you stand back up a little taller than you started.

I hope you try new things.

I hope you rely on your friends and family for support.

And more than anything… I want you to remember that things don’t have to be perfect for them to be good.

As I reminisce on my memories of high school, the most vivid thing in my mind are images of each of you , along with the memories we shared together. Class of 2019, we picked each other up when we faltered, we pushed one another to the limit, and cheered as loud as we possibly could at every turn. We are better together than we could have ever been on our own.

I will never forget this opportunity to speak to you today – and I will always be grateful for each of you. Thanks.

Salutatorian Speech - Katie Thompson

Good morning parents, faculty, guests, and, most importantly, seniors ! Welcome to graduation! My name is Katie Thompson, and I am honored to speak to you as one of this year’s salutatorians. I am especially excited to be share this honor with Hannah Hagenau, one of my best friends.

I would first like to congratulate all of the seniors on making it to graduation! As we soon transition from seniors to alumni, it is important to remember and celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of the Class of 2019.

Truly, we seniors have a lot to be proud of! We have FOUR athletes going on to play Division 1 sports at their respective universities. Some of my closest friends are directors and actors and have been involved with the performing arts from all angles. Many of us are also world travelers and have gained invaluable international experience through foreign language exchanges and spectacular interim trips. And I’ve hardly scratched the surface in describing all of the great work we have done!

These accomplishments are what you write on your resume , they’re how you’ve pitched yourself to colleges this year , and it might be how you describe yourself to future employers . However, as we reflect on the past four years, it’s important to recognize th e relationships we’ve formed and the memories we made . Perhaps the most important work we’ve done is in the overlook , laughing with our friends , or in the hallways, having meaningful conversations with our teachers . These hallways are where we have grown into adults and made lifelong memories . Mrs. Parker has probably called us all out for uniform violations at least once , and Coach Burnette has taught us what “tough love” really means . Also, I’m pretty sure none of us can ever look at sticky notes without laughing a little , and we will probably all be surprised whenever printers actually do work in college. And of course , we all know the struggle of finding a parking spot on campus a little too well . But ~~~“how might we”~~~ best say this? While we’ve spent a lot of time rolling our eyes at mindset posters, trying not to fall asleep in class, and raiding the college counseling office for snacks , this school has had a real impact on all of us, which makes saying goodbye so difficult .

Seniors , in our time at Mount Vernon, we have positively impacted our school and community ; we have built lasting legacies for years to come. But after we walk across this stage, we will remember the most rewarding aspects of High school: the lifelong friendships , the special connections we’ve made with teachers , the obstacles we’ve overcome, and all of the great memories . To the Class of 2019 , because of y’all, I’ve grown from a timid middle schooler to a confident young adult , ~ somewhat ~ ready to take on the world. After being a student at Mount Vernon for the past seven years , it’s hard to believe that this wild journey is actually coming to an end, but I can’t wait to see where life takes us next.

Thank you.

Salutatorian Speech - Hannah Hagenau

Good morning parents and family, faculty, and graduating seniors, my name is Hannah Hagenau and I also have the honor of sharing this co-salutatorian speech with one of my close friends. As Katie mentioned, graduation is a time for celebration. While our class’s collective resume should be celebrated, our relationships and interactions should also be a focal point of our reflection.

Our grade is made up of an incredible group of people who have forged some of the best and most meaningful relationships we will ever have. One of the most special attributes of our grade is how supportive we are of each other. From athletics to academics to arts, we always show up in support of our fellow classmates and friends. !!!Think about how amazing that is!!!! From the homecoming game to the last playoff game, the football team always drew a crowd ready to shout “ Our team is what?! ” (Red Hot). At Neon Night we couldn’t even fit all of the students in the student section. The plays and musicals regularly sell out and are always amazing. If someone did well on a test, people were always quick to tell them good job.

We also supported each other outside of the classroom. Sitting in the overlook during lunch or community time was so much fun this year, even if we were just hanging out and talking. We always try to make each others’ days better. Sometimes we did this intentionally ..and…. sometimes it was subconscious. Cole Dewey’s dancing always brightened our days even if it was a little cringy. When tears flowed at the senior retreat, we were all there to support and comfort each other. We even helped each other through the mishaps that come with travelling abroad, such as when Madeleine lost her passport in Peru or when it snowed in Rome and no one had the right clothes. We have supported each other through spirit tunnels, wifi crashes, and the impending doom of Mr. Feng telling us to “conceptualize the problem.” The class of 2019 has been there for each other through all of our highs and lows, all of the good times and the bad. Our support for each other is why we have all made it to this moment.

This is bittersweet for us because, while we are excited to move on to the next part of our lives, we are afraid to lose the support that this class has provided. However, I don’t believe that we ever will. Whether or not, we see each other every day, every month, every year, or every ten years, I believe that we will all still be there for each other. We will forever be connected because of this school and the myriad of memories we have created together. Even the little things, like the fact that we all ???subconsciously memorized the mission statement???, have brought us closer. I know that none of us will ever hear the words innovator and collaborator the same way again.

It’s important to move forward into this next stage of our life with an appreciation for the unique relationships and experiences we have shared. Our grade has been consistently supportive of each other and that is what has made our high school experience so special. Take that with you when you go, Class of 2019. No matter what you do or where life takes you, Mount Vernon and your Class of 2019 family will always be there to support you and remind you of all the wild experiences we’ve shared.

Thank you.

David Barclift Award - Austin Douglas

David Barclift served as Mount Vernon’s Board Chair from 2003 to 2008. In those five years, he gave tirelessly of his time and efforts to promote and grow the School. Because of David’s support, devotion, commitment, and faith, he was instrumental in the building of the Upper School. His vision and foresight and his belief in Mount Vernon’s mission motivated David and others to find the land and funding for such a daunting project. Due to his steadfast leadership and vision for the Glenn Campus, we now celebrate and consecrate the graduation of our seniors. The David Barclift Leadership Award is our only award presented at the commencement ceremony. A scholarship to the student’s college of choice accompanies the award. I have the honor of recognizing a senior in the Class of 2019 who possesses integrity and honor, demonstrates compassion for others, and gives of himself as a servant of God. Many know this student for his dedicated presence in the athletics arena. Besides enjoying athletic activity for sport, this student thrives in a team environment and coaches say he naturally falls into a servant leader role on their teams- constantly seeking new ways to support those who take the field or the court with him. Balancing school, work, sports, service, family and friendships, his dedication to his goals is unmatched. When this student sees someone in need, it is natural for him to offer assistance– be them friend or stranger. Kindness and intentionality are hallmarks of this young man’s personality and if you’re lucky enough to know him, you know what I am talking about. He offers advice with no judgement, support with no strings, and friendship with no reservations…well maybe one exception….don’t ask him to flex his muscles….his greatest pet peeve. His achievements and accomplishments are tremendous yet he is one of the most humble students representing the class of 2019. His impact on Mount Vernon will be felt long after he no longer walks these halls; his legacy will be lasting. He will be missed. Offensive football Player of the year in the region Offensive football Player of the year in the state Team Captain A mentor to many And I hear a great cook His achievements and accomplishments are tremendous yet he is one of the most humble students in his grade. His impact on Mount Vernon will be felt long after he no longer walks these halls; his legacy will be lasting. It is an honor to present the 2019 David Barclift Award to Austin Douglas.

Commencement Speaker - Ms. Kathy Waller

To Dr. Jacobsen, The Head of School,

The Board of Trustees,

The Mount Vernon Community,

The parents, friends and most importantly, the 2019 graduating class of Mount Vernon Presbyterian High School

Thank you for inviting me to join you on your special day

I am honored to be here with you as this is a special day for me as well …

Today is my birthday

So, I am especially honored to spend this day with you, and I will always remember your graduation day

As I was thinking about this day and what my message would be, I thought about previous graduations that I have attended and what my expectations of the “commencement speaker” have been

Frankly, my expectations completely depended on my role

When my role was as a member of the graduating class, I expected or actually wanted the commencement speaker to be brief, after all there were celebrations to attend

If I was a member of the board of trustees, a relative of a graduate or as in one occasion, the actual commencement speaker, my expectation was that the speaker would find something important, hopefully even inspiring, to say to the graduates

At least something that might be of interest to them and that they might retain for at least the length of the average attention span which, according to google, is 8 seconds

So, I am very clear that there are mixed expectations in this room so I will do my best to not totally disappoint any of you
In my preparation I decided to learn more about the institution you are graduating from … Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

What I found through my research was incredibly impressive

You all are graduating from a program that provided not only an incredible education but also provided extraordinary opportunities for learning outside of the classroom

I hope you all took full advantage of each opportunity

Based on my research, as a graduate of this program, you have an amazing foundation to continue to build on

And today, you join the ranks of the “privileged”

You are not privileged because you have an education

You have the right to an education
But by having an education you are now in a position of privilege and you now have some accountability to others

You may not feel particularly privileged, but you now have a set of skills and competencies that you can continue to build upon that many others don’t have access to

You have a wonderful education that was not just academic in nature, but provided experiences that whether you realize it or not helped to shape who you are today

And more importantly, your education and those experiences are helping to determine who you will become

And the question I’d like to explore is … Who will you become?

You see, today, regardless of who you are or your background, I believe that your past or even your current reality does not necessarily define your future
I believe your attitude, your expectations of life and others in your life and your determination all impact your future and who you will become

The key ingredient in the mix is you … you define your future …. Circumstances should not define your future

So, what will your future look like?

Well, this story is yours to write

But there are some key ingredients that will help you to write a great story

We’ve established that you have a great foundation

Along with that foundation there were many gifts that you can take along with you from this school

Three things stand out to me:

Independent Thinking

Intellectual Curiosity

Caring about community and compassion for others

Let’s start with independent thinking

I suspect all of you are adept at using social media

I, personally, am not a frequent user but what I’ve learned through the various growing number of social media outlets, there is no shortage of people trying to influence what you think and believe … with or without facts to support their conclusions

Through your studies you learned how to analyze complex problems and discuss the issues

As educated young people you owe it to yourselves and to society to continue to use those skills you learned and to form your own opinion on issues

Which means you need to do the research and search for the independent facts that allow you to form an opinion

I get it!

It is much easier to let others do your thinking
After all, we assume, others have already done the work and researched the facts

But have they really done the research?

And, even if they have done the research, would they interpret those facts the same way you would interpret them?

You owe it to yourselves to make sure you have the facts and that you can support your opinion

You also owe it to yourselves and others to be careful about the information that you share on social media

An interesting story is just that, an interesting story

Because it is shared on social media doesn’t make the story true

And those interesting stories are often about real people whose lives are impacted

And, you all know that potential employers and admissions professionals are checking the social media posts of their candidates

Your social media habits and behaviors should fairly represent you to others who are making decisions about you

Now let’s move on to Intellectual Curiosity:

Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something

Two of its synonyms are inquisitiveness and interest.

I saw on the school’s website a statement that said, “Curiosity and Passion Drive Learning”

I agree with that statement

Curiosity and passion are behaviors that we all look for as we look to hire potential candidates

Demonstrating curiosity isn’t difficult

It’s as easy as asking questions and showing a genuine interest

Did you know that people who exhibit curiosity during a job interview are much more likely to get the job than people who don’t?

Think about it, one of the synonyms of curiosity is interest

If you are looking to hire someone, are you going to give your job opportunity to the person who has questions and wants to learn more about the job and/or the organization or are you going to give it to the one who seems indifferent and disinterested?

In any competitive situation when you are looking for ways to distinguish yourself from other candidates, one simple way to potentially distinguish yourself is to be prepared to ask 2-3 informed questions about the organization or the job

And I mean informed questions not the lay-up questions
Which of course means you will have to do a little homework to understand a little about the organization before you show up for the interview

Something so simple can make a big difference

And the third stand out for me is community involvement and compassion for others

Through your education you have learned the importance of compassion and generosity and of serving the community

I personally try to live by the bible verse which says: “to those whom much is given, much is required”

Throughout my life I have believed that I have a responsibility to be accountable for my blessings and to share them with others

But what many don’t realize is that the concept of “much” is a relative concept

By that I mean each of us is expected to use whatever gifts we have to serve others

I call this an attitude of gratitude

I saw that it is called “developing hearts of service” on your school’s website

Regardless of what you call it, my experience has been that when I freely give, I always receive far more than I have given

And what I receive comes in many beautiful and unexpected forms

I hope that has also been your experience and that your “heart of service” stays with you as you write your future story

So, we have established that you are a curious minded, independent thinker who supports your community and helps others

With those foundational skills I would suggest you add on a few others as you are writing your future story

The first would be resilience
You all know things will not always go your way regardless of how hard you work or how prepared you are

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

As great as life is, things happen in life that are challenging

You may or may not get into the college you want

You may or may not get the internship or job offer you want

Some things seem easier than others to recover from
But you need to remember, people are watching and how you handle adversity says more about you and your character than the adverse incident

The second thing I would suggest you add is agility and I would include adaptability and openness to change
Agility is defined as the ability to move quickly and easily; and to think and understand quickly

Change is inevitable and how quickly you adapt and adjust your thinking, your positioning or your approach when you encounter change is another indicator of your strength of character and your self-confidence

And the third thing is something I would recommend you do

I highly recommend you learn to get outside of your comfort zone and get out of your own way

We often block our opportunities because we are hampered by our fears … real or imagined

Fear can be debilitating

However, the fear resulting from what we have blown up in our imaginations often has very little resemblance to reality

Don’t let your imaginary fears prevent you from experiencing and exploring new opportunities and meeting new people

All the technology in the world can never make up for connecting with people and developing relationships

A computer or phone screen can’t help you excel at building relationships

The good news is that because of your school’s programs, many of you have a head start in developing that skill

But if you don’t feel totally comfortable yet in building relationships don’t worry

You are not alone

Most people don’t feel totally comfortable trying to build relationships, so they will understand your discomfort

The fact that you are trying means a lot and the more you work at it, the better you will become

Now at the beginning of my speech I said that you are privileged

Well, with privilege comes responsibility to use that privilege to continue to better yourself, not only for your personal growth but to be able to help others and stand up for others who can’t stand up for themselves

So there are lots of important skills to be developed and nurtured in your futures

Finding all the necessary skills is part of writing your story.

I hope that each of your future stories are rewarding and fulfilling

For today, I hope you enjoy your well-earned celebrations

And I Thank you again for inviting me to be here with you and I wish you all the best