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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Be the best of whatever you are’: Mt. Spokane High kicks off graduation weekend

Mt. Spokane High senior Liliana Campos’ commencement speech started with an apology to her parents.

They didn’t know their daughter was addressing her fellow graduating classmates until they read her name on the Friday evening commencement program at Gonzaga University’s McCarthey Athletic Center.

“I wanted this to be a surprise, so I hope you’re surprised,” she said.

Campos then delivered a 6-minute talk, encouraging her classmates to push past the imaginary boundaries they set for themselves and sharing her parents’ story of overcoming adversity in a new country.

Campos’ parents moved to the U.S. from Mexico when they were teenagers.

“My parents are the hardest-working people I know, and since they were teenagers, they’ve had nobody to help them but themselves,” Campos said. “I say this not as a sob story but as a success story … They have succeeded, because I am here, and I am graduating from high school. Today, I am here graduating for myself and for my parents who never got to.”

Mt. Spokane High’s graduation kicked off a slate of major Spokane-area high school commencements this weekend at the Podium and McCarthey. Mead High School’s senior ceremony followed Mt. Spokane’s Friday night at Gonzaga. West Valley High seniors graduated Friday night at the Podium.

Most people in the crowd stood, and many cheered, as Mt. Spokane seniors, wearing navy blue caps and gowns, walked into the open arena floor – normally occupied by Gonzaga basketball players – and took their seats to start the ceremony.

Principal Chelsea Gallagher asked the seniors to stand and applaud their loved ones who guided them to this moment.

“Graduates, you’re here because of your hard work, for sure, but behind every successful endeavor are the people who supported you along the way,” she said.

Gallagher then discussed the power of the conjunction “and.”

She used the popular word in between the long list of the class’ achievements in sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities.

She said she hoped the students consider all of themselves when thinking about what they want to do after high school.

“By all means, pursue your career as an engineer or an electrician, or whatever you see yourself doing,” Gallagher said. “And be kind. And pursue your hobbies. And don’t forget that you are so much more than what you do for a living. Our ‘ands’ make us greater than any one part. Embrace all of our ‘ands’ because they make you uniquely you. And, once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.”

Like Campos, senior speaker Benjamin Joireman also started his speech in a lighthearted way.

“Congratulations on accomplishing something 91% of the population achieves,” Joireman said of earning a high school diploma. “You are truly exceptional.”

He said his classmates now possess a diploma “loser high-school dropouts” Ryan Gosling, Rihanna and Tom Cruise don’t have. The crowd laughed.

Joireman then got serious, stressing to his classmates to “be the best of whatever you are.”

Even if you’re a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures and like William Shakespeare wrote poetry, Joireman said.

He said people can’t control many things in their lives, but they can control their actions.

“The best way to handle this situation is to be the best at whatever you do in every single aspect of your life,” he said. “Excellence is hard to keep quiet.”

Senior Sam Brown spoke about the challenges seniors faced and overcame, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic as freshmen.

Brown said the first days of high school were overwhelming, walking around lost and confused in what seemed like a big building.

They were pushed to their limits with late nights doing homework, finals weeks and curveballs thrown into their plans.

“We finally made it to the end of these long four years,” Brown said. “Enjoy this moment. Savor it.”

Later, the graduates walked across the stage after their names were announced, shook hands with high school staff, posed for a photo with their diploma and returned to their seats.