Welcome graduating students; family, friends, and teachers of graduating students; and School Board members. During this ceremony, we celebrate the commencement—the start of the next stage of the lives of our graduating students. We have confidence, graduating students, that individually and collectively you will flourish, regardless of the difficulties you face.
Looking at our challenges relating to the economy, the environment, and international relations, one could mistakenly conclude that the world that the Class of 2012 inhabits resembles the combat arena in the popular book and movie The Hunger Games. In The Hunger Games one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each of a nation’s twelve districts are chosen by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death until just one person remains. Although the arena in The Hunger Games is a horrific place, Katniss Everdeen, the sixteen year-old protagonist, inspires us with her capacity for love and selflessness, her work ethic, and her cunning intelligence.
At the start of The Hunger Games, we learn of Katniss’ capacity for love and selflessness when her little sister Primrose is chosen by lottery for the death match and Katniss volunteers to go in her place. Graduating students, remember how compelling this capacity for love and selflessness is.
Even before the lottery, we learn of Katniss’ strong work ethic. Given the limited resources and economic opportunity in her district, Katniss hunts for animals and plants every day in order to feed her family. Through countless hours of hard work, Katniss develops superior archery and outdoors skills that serve her well. Graduating students, take inspiration from this strong work ethic.
The first story of The Hunger Games trilogy closes with a display of Katniss’ cunning intelligence. Midway through the story, the evil organizers of the game announce a rules change: rather than the game ending with one survivor, the game can end with two survivors from the same district. Every combatant in the games subsequently dies except for Katniss and Peeta, who is also from her district, making them the apparent victors. However, the organizers of the games, wanting more drama, announce a reversal of the rules change: the games will end when only one survivor exists. Katniss then outsmarts the manipulative organizers of the games. Knowing that the organizers would prefer two survivors rather than none, she hands poison berries to Peeta and prepares to take them herself, prompting the organizers to pronounce them both winners. Graduating students, know that cunning intelligence can outsmart people with evil intentions.
I also encourage you to gain strength by connecting with others to pursue worthy causes. On the day of the lottery in The Hunger Games, the teenagers who were eligible for the misfortune of being chosen to compete gathered solemnly in the town square. After the youth witness Katniss volunteering to compete in the place of her younger sister, Effie Trinket, the mistress of ceremonies, tells them in the movie version, “Let’s have a big hand for our very first volunteer.” The teenagers recognized that the evil organizers of the games expected them to treat the games as a big festivity but they refused to applaud. Instead, first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touched three fingers to their lips and held them in the air in an act of unity and support for Katniss. This act indicated appreciation and admiration and served to say good-bye.
Lastly, I want to relate an expression that was insincere in The Hunger Games but that I share as a heartfelt wish, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” Congratulations, Class of 2012.