The motto chosen by Bartram Trail High School’s Class of 2017 is by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
That philosophy, and various twists upon it, were summoned up in several of the speeches given by members of this year’s graduating class at the commencement ceremony Thursday afternoon at the University of North Florida. The group of 500-plus seniors were described alternately as high-achieving leaders, fighters and community-driven contributors.
But the message in many of the words addressed to graduates was to lead, not follow, and blaze trails of their own making.
“Before you leave here today, just ask yourself two questions,” said senior class president Miles Feacher. “What direction are you facing, and whose lives are you affecting?”
Bartram Trail High School principal Chris Phelps inspired students to “do all the best you can do and you’ll never have any regrets.”
Phelps said that this particular class was made up of hundreds of students with all kinds of natural talents and abilities and advised them to tap into those resources to make a difference in the world.
“It is absolutely the journey, not the destination,” Phelps said, “so enjoy the journey.”
St. Johns County School Board member Bev Slough said she had learned some things about Bartram’s Class of 2017 through the years, including that they were civic-minded yet “fierce.”
“You have the grit, you never give up and you always persevere,” Slough said.
Superintendent of Schools Tim Forson, who also served as principal of Bartram Trail from 2002 to 2006, advised graduates to not only “go all out — it’s easy to play it safe, but don’t have a fear of failure or rejection,” but also to “think about opportunities to move somebody else forward in the world.”
Valedictorian Robert Magee urged his fellow classmates to “find the people in your life who would do anything for you … and don’t let go of them.”
Magee joked , “If my friends hadn’t helped me develop my confidence over these last four years, I probably would’ve thrown up on this podium today … and I still might.”
Salutatorian Zachary Villaverde spoke about overcoming challenges and becoming the “architects of our own destinies.”
“Obstacles are meant to be broken,” Villaverde said, “and this Class of 2017 is a class of fighters.”