By Jayson Jacoby
On a day when their emotions (and their mortarboards) soared, Baker High School's class of 2013 learned something which might have surprised them.
They learned that, a quarter century in the future, when the sunny, blustery Sunday afternoon on which they received their diplomas seems a distant memory, their love for this school and for this community might only have deepened.
The students learned this lesson from one of their own.
Kevin Pearson, a 1988 BHS graduate, told the 132 members of the class of 2013 that they are a fortunate group indeed.
"You come from a long line of success," said Pearson, a lawyer in a prestigious Portland firm. "All of you are as well-prepared for success in the next phase of your life as anyone graduating from any school this spring."
Yet Pearson said he didn't understand how lucky he was to be a Baker Bulldog - didn't, in fact, even believe it - when he walked across the same field of grass 25 years ago.
Pearson said that when he arrived at Linfield College, where he earned his bachelor's degree before going on to law school at Gonzaga, he was intimidated by some of the incoming freshmen he met on the McMinnville campus.
He was impressed, he said, by the vast curricula their high schools offered, by their wealth of extracurricular activities, by their cultural opportunities.
But as the years went on, Pearson said, and in particular as he worked on the commencement speech he would deliver Sunday, he came to understand the essential truth of the words of his own graduation speaker at BHS, Perry Camp, an esteemed neurosurgeon and a 1965 BHS graduate.
Except, Pearson confessed, he got his story wrong, or rather his memory did.
Camp spoke not at the graduation in 1988, but the year before.
Pearson admitted his gaffe with humor - a joke about his memory not being as keen as when he was 18 - and with self-deprecation.
"One thing that has changed is the standard for picking a speaker," he said.
Pearson also poked fun at himself - specifically his head and its, well, follicle deficiencies.
While working on his speech, he said, he pondered what he would have told himself, 25 years ago, on his own graduation day.
"You are handsome, don't ever change," Pearson said. "And then I would have run my hands through my thick, lustrous hair."
Pearson's overriding point, though, was a serious one.
He recalled how Camp sought to instill in the 1987 graduates a sense of confidence, a belief that the quality of education at Baker High School was unsurpassed and that graduates need not think of themselves as disadvantaged in any way.
"Dr. Camp was absolutely right," Pearson said. "We had access to a group of very special teachers and administrators, teachers who taught us to write essays when multiple choice tests would have been easier to grade.
"And we had access to an entire community of people who cared enough to know our names. And who kept constant watch over us. Constant - I'm sure you know what I mean."
Pearson also reminded graduates that with the support of their school and their community comes "the gift of high expectations."
"They expected the best of us at all times," he said.
Pearson encouraged students to embrace that responsibility.
"None of you is special - the world doesn't revolve around you," he said. "You understand the importance of hard work. Set lofty goals and attack them with tenacity."
Pearson returned several times to this concept, emphasizing that most often the element that distinguishes people who succeed from those who fail is not talent but rather perseverance.
"Quitting is habit-forming," Pearson said. "Never, never quit. That's easily the most important thing I can say to you. Believe in yourselves and never sell yourselves short."
Pearson even drew on a rather unlikely source -Jedi master Yoda - to drive home the point about the value of determination:
"Do or do not. There is no try."
"That was for the nerds," Pearson said, eliciting more laughter from the audience.
He imparted a few kernels of practical advice along with the more serious life lessons, including:
andbull; advising college students not to schedule any classes before 10 a.m.
andbull; "always have a fake name ready to use at any moment" - albeit not for anything illegal
andbull; be careful about which of your activities end up on the Internet - "you are in fact judged by everything," he said
andbull; "turn off your cell phone once in a while"
andbull; remember to thank your parents, because "if you're getting ready to leave home - and you should - they'll miss you"
Pearson extolled graduates to find their own unique route to happiness, but also to enlist as guides those who share the qualities the students had instilled during their years at BHS.
"Surround yourself with the kind of people you want to emulate," Pearson said. "You know who they are. Don't truck with losers.
"True happiness comes from being part of something bigger than yourself," he said. "Be the protagonist of your own life."
There were echoes of Pearson's advice in the speeches delivered by the class of 2013's two valedictorians and two salutatorians.
Valedictorian Samantha Stone expressed her love for her classmates.
"I'm glad to have spent the last 12 years of my life with all of you," she said. "Let us enjoy the beauty of being young and alive."
Stone said that although the list of people she wanted to thank is too long to cover in a single speech, she emphasized Kathy Shaw at Keating School, and Jeff Sizer, band teacher at both the high school and Baker Middle School.
Stone, an award-winning musician, said her experience in band was the "defining" one for her.
To the musicians she played with, she said: "I love every one of you like family."
Valedictorian Connor Yates began and ended his speech by asking this question: "How much would you pay for the universe?"
Yates said each of the graduates will play a role not only in their own futures, but in the futures of their community and their generation.
"If we really want to be part of the future we must work for it," he said. "The future is not waiting for us on silver platters, it's in large piles of unfinished materials.
"We are dependent on the actions of one another."
Salutatorian Bryan Ames told his classmates he believes they are a special group.
"We have sharp minds and we have widely ranging talents," Ames said. "I think we all have very bright futures. I'd like to say to my class, you exceeded my expectations. You give me great confidence in my generation."
Salutatorian Isaac Mansuetti started his speech by suggesting that cheating, in academics, has become more prevalent over the years.
He even admitted to an occasional transgression.
"I'm not going to go any further - I haven't got my diploma yet," Mansuetti said, provoking laughter from the packed bleachers at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
But the class of 2013, Mansuetti said, is defined not by its lack of integrity but rather by its abundance.
Although his generation might have much to answer for, Mansuetti said his class is an exception.
"We as a class have already accomplished a lot, with integrity," he said. "I couldn't be more honored to part of this community and the class of 2013."