To all of our graduating classes —
We’re here to honor the Class of 2019 and to thank them for their accomplishment and for making all of us proud. This class excelled in academics, athletics and community involvement.
We need to recognize the hard work of your parents, your teachers and your advisers.
Graduation marks a new beginning for your class. For many of you, the dreams of attending college appear on the horizon. You mentioned University of Montana Western, BYU, Great Basin College, Boise State, Idaho, Clackamas and the University of Nevada. You have aspirations to become teachers, doctors, graphic designers, sports medicine specialists and businessmen and women. Others plan to attend trade schools, some plan to work after high school.
Yet, some will enter the military and serve their country. But mostly, don’t stop learning.
You need to create your own paths and develop those achievable goals. Many of us have had to do that, but changes do occur.
I always wanted to be a television reporter or sportscaster but life changed for me at the age of 24 when I decided to become a teacher. Three days before first day of school in 1976, the Elko County School District offered me a teaching job at Wells High School.
The friendships and memories made in Wells have remained with me for 42 years. Likewise, I came to Fallon 33 years ago, and the same scenario has played out. I worked hard to become a better teacher … refined my skills as a print journalist … served the Wells community on the volunteer fire and ambulance departments and city council. I accomplished new goals on my own terms. I achieved more than I ever thought I could as an educator, as an Army officer in the National Guard and Reserves and as Nevada’s co-journalist of the year in 2012. I have traveled to Europe, South America and Asia and spent time in Afghanistan, which looks like central Nevada.
Your future starts here.
Without the experience and encouragement achieved in this community, the outcomes may have been different. So, I’ve asked former students to offer their advice for your next journey:
I know what a sense of community is, and I carry that with me to this very day. Also, have a willingness to be adventurous and try new things that were outside my comfort zone.
Never quit believing in yourself and set goals that you can achieve so that when you achieve them you can set higher ones.
My teacher made me feel like my thoughts were respected and that I had potential for more than being a housewife …
She now supervises a staff of 14 in a government office.
Pay attention to the details when you are writing something. People do pay attention to the finer aspects of the composed word, whatever it may be.
The relationships that were initiated from growing up in a small community are the most positive parts that I took away with me.
Knowing how to convey thoughts with words, clearly, succinctly, and even identifying how a piece might be improved makes you timelessly marketable.
I had teachers who believed in me implicitly. I remember two teachers in particular really encouraging me to get an education so that I could “be” someone.
This person also became an activist on the national stage.
I best remember lessons learned from the books we read: “The Pearl” – Money can truly be the root of all evil. Be ethical in how you earn it and spend it. “Of Mice and Men” – The world can be a dark place. Have courage to keep pursuing dreams and goals. Don’t lose hope, even when fate seems to have it out for you.
Be direct. Whether it’s in your writing or conversation. Don’t get too wordy, don’t flower it up, because what you have to say (or convey) is said with more authority if it’s simply said correctly and honestly.
I recall my co-salutatorian speech … I talked about the uncertainties that lie ahead, can’t always see the curve ahead but knowledge, relationships and willingness to continue to learn are great tools to have to navigate life.
I learned about expectations, standards and the importance of teaching others. Treat people fairly. Communicate clearly. Think deeper than what is on the surface. It’s OK to have different opinions. Share your knowledge and build each other up.
So you see, seniors, you have the intellect and ability to chart your own course with encouragement from those before you.
Your parents and educators all want you to make yourself a better person and your community a better place in which to live by giving of yourself and recognizing your community as a vibrant home.
Strong character is shaped from living in small communities such as Wells and Fallon and applied to any place you call home.
Give of yourself. Be active. Become involved with a volunteer fire department or on an ambulance crew, volunteer to coach, help your senior citizens, be active in community endeavors. Volunteer at a school or church. Profession is one thing. Community is another that requires sacrifice of time and commitment.
Nothing is more satisfying in life knowing you made a difference with someone else.
Many people from this community have achieved many goals. From the outside, Fallon is small; from the inside, it has produced honored Nevadans. In addition to former Fallon residents being inducted into various halls of fame or receiving major awards, this small community 62 miles from Reno has several journalists in the Nevada Press Association’s Hall of Fame, joining the company of journalists such as Mark Twain.
I admire the tenacity of this writer who grew up in Elko County. Jean McElrath distinguished herself as a Nevada journalist and author beginning in the 1940s. Her column “Tumbleweeds” was published for more than two decades.
After I arrived in Wells, the high school librarian loaned me a copy of her book “Tumbleweeds” to read. Although Jean died in 1967 after writing her column for 25 years, she never gave up.
But let me tell you the rest of the story ….
Jean lay crippled from arthritis that had her bedridden since her teens. Later, when she became blind, her typewriter had Braille letters taped to the keys.
Jean never lost her thirst for knowledge. She received recognition from then Gov. Grant Sawyer. Author Robert Laxalt was one of her mentors and also instrumental in getting her book “Aged in Sage” published. She was named Distinguished Nevadan in 1965, but she accepted the award in person from her gurney. Sadly, she passed away 52 years ago, but any community and the state were much better places for knowing Jean.
Graduates, this is the Nevada spirit … never give up.
You’ll find each generation has its own stories …
And now … final advice on not repeating the same mistakes. Look at each other, look into your classmates’ eyes, look straight ahead. These are my parting words:
Don’t lose contact with your fellow classmates, your parents and friends. I did in later life and never had a chance to see or say goodbye to many teaching colleagues or other community members I knew. Let your teachers and friends know how you are doing. Stop in and see them when you return home. Your parents, relatives and friends with us today are part of the Fallon family. Keep this in mind now and for the days ahead. Communicate by phone, letter, social media, Pony Express. Check on each other … encourage each other … help each other … now and the years to follow …. we’ll see you in a decade at your 10-year reunion.
Steve Ranson is editor emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and a former English teacher and school administrator.
Notes: In 2018, I was asked to give the graduation speech at Wells High School where I first began teaching English in the 1970s. The comments offered last year seem appropriate to the 2019 graduating classes from Churchill County High School, the Adult Education program and Oasis Academy. The references can fit any graduating class, whether students attend a small or large high school. The last paragraph of this speech may have been a foretelling for seniors to check up on one another and never lose contact. Two months after I delivered this graduation speech, one of the seniors in the Wells Class of 2018 took his life.