First let me congratulate the class of 2021…..I thank Board president Dr. Krause, members of the Kenston Board of Education, Superintendent Santilli, Principal Gabram, students, faculty, and the Auburn-Bainbridge community for this opportunity. When I agreed to speak today, the stress of how I could give you some proper advice and inspiration gave me considerable anxiety. Thanks to the invitation from Mr. Gabram, there have been many days of stress in anticipation of this moment! Actually, I haven’t really been eating much, so fortunately I have lost some weight, so I thank you again, Mr. Gabram!
I am honored and humbled to be standing before you. As a 1996 graduate, I took advantage of the foundation of what Kenston provided for me. I remember the many opportunities at KHS, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. I was a member of the Bomber Football team and spent many Friday nights on this field learning tough life-skills from the game I love. Like some of you here tonight, I also played in a State Championship, however we fell short in the game losing only by one point. The heartbreaking loss motivated me to continue my football career which led me to the United States Air Force Academy. I played four more years and committed to pilot training where I have been flying fighter jets ever since. I serve our great nation with my fellow soldiers, defending our freedoms with pride.
To the Class 2021, what an unprecedented year, and a year very few of us thought was possible in this day and age. In preparation of today’s ceremony, I exchanged emails with some of you students and faculty. The emails were basic questions about the school year, virus protocols, school events, and highs and lows. The most common theme from everyone’s response was the comradery of the students and staff, a desire from everyone to succeed, and the support you gave one another to make it through. I was not surprised to hear these themes because this is what Kenston is all about. Unlike many other schools in the nation, Kenston stayed strong facing this pandemic head on and moved forward with regular school days. This is only one example on how Kenston continues to prepare students for life. Mr. Tripi stated Kenston is an amazing place to work. The students are fantastic, highly motivated, and are a joy to interact with. I can’t disagree, I reflect on three things that I took with me from Kenston; Finding your Passion in Life, Accepting Change, and Taking Advantage of your Time because life can be too short.
Being a member of the USAF and flying fighters is one of my passions in life. If you truly have this same passion as I do, and a desire for the ‘need for speed’, then look to the Air Force. There are two planes, the F-15C Eagle and F-22 Raptor, in which I have reached supersonic speed on multiple occasions. This is called Mach 1.9 at 52,000 K. It is about 19 miles a minute, so apply the 60:1 rule and then roughly 1,140 mph. Yes, I was making very good time at that speed while up in the sky. I have been in multiple combat missions, shooting missiles and dropping bombs in order to protect and serve our country. I flew jets across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans while refueling in the air. I’ve flown in Okinawa, Japan, Singapore, Spain, around the Middle East, Alaska and everywhere else in the United States. Like you, I have experienced tough and stressful days in my job but I would say, 9 out of 10 times, when I wake up in the morning, I still feel passionate about my job sacrificing for the good of others.
I actually don’t feel like my job is work. I’m like a big kid with a $150M toy. So I ask you to find this same passion in your life as you take this next step. Kenston has given you the skills and foundation to find your passion. Do something you love because life is too short not to be happy. Surround yourself with successful people and you will be successful yourself. The people around me, they are my brothers. They have impeccable character and integrity and are just as passionate as I am about defending America’s freedoms. We always have each other’s backs and have built strong bonds and relationships. Last Wednesday, 19 May, I had the privilege of being part of a flyover at Arlington National Cemetery for deceased Lt Col Michael Kerr, a Vietnam POW, from 16 January 1967 to 4 March 1973, 6 years, a Prisoner of War for 2,239 days. You know what he did after returning to America in 1973? He came back to base and re-qualified in a F-106 to go back to Vietnam. These are the people I love servicing with. Was this a workday for me? Yes, but while working, I was privileged to have the opportunity to honor his memory and his family. I love the military and can’t see myself doing anything else. Hoorah!
Look around students. Many teachers and staff are here to celebrate this great day with you. They went above and beyond this year in the classroom because they are passionate to see you succeed. They changed and adapted their teaching methods to meet the needs of all students both in-person and those learning remotely. Embrace their passion and apply it to something in your future that aligns to your goals. Seniors, please join me in a round of applause to honor your teachers and staff.
My wife Nora, also graduated from US Air Force Academy, and we met in basic training together. She is an amazing wife, mother, Airman and attorney. She is a judge advocate general, or JAG on active duty. Her duty consists of……….Because of my wife, I enjoy reading articles on court cases and discussing many issues and topics in society. I like to hear my wife’s perspectives on these subjects, which I highly respect.
One particular topic we have discussed is social change in our nation. Over the last eighteen months the nation has experienced significant change due to impactful events. In life, many people struggle with change, especially because of certain biases we have developed. Biases can be learned or they are innate but they definitely control our emotions towards something. I am biased towards Steeler fans. I admit it and I am aware of it. However, I can still have a civil conversation with a Steelers fan, well most of the time. GO BROWNIES!
Sometimes laws in society no longer make sense, because of societal changes that have occured. Many laws were written based on assumptions or preconceived biases of an individual’s abilities or lack thereof. One example is from former Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a young and highly successful attorney, Ruth is known for arguing six groundbreaking cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme court and overturning a century of gender discrimination laws. In most of her rebuttals, she simply proved that the current law no longer applied due to society changes, and all of the inequalities that it produced. Her work and her voice made others accept change.
How you approach the changing times is where I challenge you. Keep your eyes wide open. We must not allow our preconceived notions towards a certain situation, blind us from a different perspective. As you go off to embark on your next experiences, be aware of your biases, but try to approach people differently, seeing them from the inside out, and respecting them on their content of character. Content of character should be all that you see which will create mutual respect and a precedent that you should live by. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, all it takes is one voice to make change; this very well could be your voice to make change some day.
Life is about learning from your experiences and trial and error. I went to AF academy to be a pilot and play football. However, I really didn’t decide to compete for pilot fighter training until halfway through my junior year. As you all proceed on your own path, I want to caution you of one thing. Don’t be in a hurry and take time for things that are important to you. We all know time can be shortened and taken away without our control. Today is bittersweet for most, as not all seniors are not able to sit here for this ceremony. To Cameron’s family and friends, I offer my condolences. A loss of life, especially a child and a friend is tragic and difficult. I have experienced loss as well, being in the military, and observing the ultimate sacrifice of many soldiers. I am proud of how you Bombers responded to this loss and chose to fly together through this difficult time. Please know Cameron is here today and will be with you Forever and Always.
So once again manage your time and don’t rush things. Take time to be young. Take time to relax. Take time to hug your parents. Take time to travel. Take time for new experiences. Take time for making new friends with different backgrounds. Take time to make decisions. Take time to fall in love and out of love, and Take time to find the one you love. Take time to make a difference. Most importantly, take the time to figure it all out and you will eventually find your passion.
Never forget why you even have time on this earth…your parents. Yes the most important people in your life. You are your parent’s passion, continue to stay close to them and love them forever. Parents, be proud of what your child accomplished in their time at Kenston, but most of the credit goes to you on how you raised them and instilled good values upon them. Thank you for the continued love and support you have for them as they transition out of Kenston Schools. Students, how about another round of applause for your parents.
As you move on from today, remember my message: find that passion in your life, be that voice of change and accept other changes when warranted, finally take your time in life’s journey and take advantage of the future opportunities presented to you. Your foundation from Kenston is deep and strong just as mine is. Go out there with confidence and apply yourself. Like Mr. Tripi wrote to me. The future is very bright for KHS students and the possibilities are limitless. Bomber Nation, I am honored to stand by your side and witness this transition. I wish you the best of luck and I am confident you will succeed in any future endeavors.
Thank you for listening and may God Bless your future.