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Be someone's hero - A message to the class of 2009

June 10, 2009

Editor's note: The following is the text of a speech given by Washington County Board of Education Vice President Ruth Anne Callaham last week at Williamsport High School's graduation ceremony.

On behalf of the elected Board of Education, I bring you greetings and congratulations.

We are all very proud of all of you, and of your accomplishments. Thank you for all your hard work. A heartfelt thank you as well to all the parents, teachers, administrators, the superintendent and school support personnel for the encouragement, support and love you gave to make sure that the students would graduate tonight.

Somewhere around 1609, William Shakespeare coined the phrase, "What's past is prologue" ... events of the past give insight to the future. Imagine if you will that I represent the past; not the ancient past, more like the class of 1969. You, the Williamsport High School class of 2009, represent the future. We share this event together tonight with an eye on things to come.

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1969. What a year!!!! We had just elected a new president, who inherited the very unpopular Vietnam war, high inflation rate and high unemployment. There were chaotic student demonstrations on campuses such as Kent State University. For some, it was a time of hopelessness expressed in songs of the day such as "Me and Bobby McGee" wherein "freedom was just another word for nothing else to lose." For others, hope was found in heroes like Neil Armstrong as he walked on the moon, or those serving the military, dedicated to Duty-Honor-Country, who taught us freedom is a gift, given to us by those who serve in the military; preserved by those who serve our government.

We are at the same time very much alike and very different - you and I - the future and the past. You see, I'm "not from around here" - grew up in Texas. However, like so many of you, I am at this event tonight because of a Williamsport High School teacher. This is true, you can't make these things up, life is just too good. In 1999, an English teacher, Ms. Snowden, spoke in a clear voice to the Board of Education on the importance of giving students access to a controversial Vietnam-era book ("A Prayer for Owen Meany"). Although I only watched from home, her courage and willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the students had a profound impact. Which put me on a path to seek election to the Board of Education some years later. Ms. Snowden, you are my hero.

It's 2009! We have just elected a new president, who has inherited an unpopular war, high inflation rate and high unemployment. So much of what will happen in the future depends on how you apply what Williamsport High School has taught you about the past. That first step on the moon in 1969 was a giant step for mankind. We are looking to you to take the next steps into the galaxy, or find a cure for painful disease. We are counting on you to write your songs of the day to use your knowledge of the past to address problems creating solutions we can only dream of.

As you take your place in the future:

o Defend and preserve the gift of freedom.

o Where there is chaos, give leadership.

o Where there is hopelessness, give hope.

o Speak in a clear voice for others.

o Be someone's Hero.

Thank you.

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