‘Do the little things’: Vincent class of 2022 inspired for next steps following graduation

Published 1:21 pm Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

VINCENT – Over the last four years, Mary Kyser has watched as the class of 2022 grew from freshmen to seniors at Vincent Middle High School.

But on Tuesday, May 24, the message was slightly different as she looked to her left and gave a keynote speech to the seniors at their graduation ceremony following her retirement earlier in the year.

“It is a happy evening. There is nothing like a festive and fun-filled evening as we celebrate being together to share some of the things we have in common,” she said. “When I was asked to be here this evening, I felt absolutely blessed and in awe, because when I retired earlier this year, I wasn’t sure how I would come to some sense of closure for the class of 2022.”

That closure, however, came through writing her speech to celebrate this year’s seniors on their final night as Vincent students.

“For the last time, get your bird chest out,” she said, sharing one of her famed quotes. “All but six of the seniors were in my class for at least one full year, and over 50 percent spent four years driving me up the wall. From speeding in the parking lot to facing challenging injuries to significant life events… we could go on and on. But it has been an absolutely, absolutely amazing ride. Very seldom does the guest speaker get to look at the class and know each and every one of them in one way or another.”

As a proud teacher to many of them throughout their journey, she wanted to leave them with a few laughs and one last big message—do the little things.

“I just want to share one aspect of my life that worked, and that is doing the important little things,” she said. “If you do those right, they create the opportunity for the bigger important things in your life. I know sometimes you think, ‘I just want to get’r done. But sometimes, you have to stop and create those important little steps and do them right. Those are the ones that make or break you.”

She shared a relative example with the students of how many steps are involved in simply getting a driver’s license from being the right age, getting a car, taking a class, passing a test, paying for the license and going to get the license.

“Without those steps, the important steps, the bigger step of getting your license would not have happened,” she said. “Why does it matter? It matters because you should always be mindful that the little things done right gives you hope.”

She said it is inevitable in life that you will fail, simply put, because life isn’t fair, but by doing the little things correctly, you can bounce back.

“When you fail, do not back down. Regroup and do the little things right again, and the outcome will be a better, bigger thing,” Kyser said. “You’ll be surprised to learn that all those little things you did right created the perfect timing for the one big thing in your life.”

And perhaps her biggest challenge to the senior class before walking up to accept their diplomas and embark on the next stage of life, was to embrace what makes you different.

“When others say you’re different because you try to do little things right, embrace it, own it, stick your bird chest out and be proud of it,” she said. “Don’t back down. You stand proud that you were born with something authentic, something different than the rest—a mind of your own. Because you are different for doing those little things right, that is your greatest power.”

The seniors not only heard her, showing praise in their reaction, but they were a step ahead of her during the night.

During his valedictorian speech, Seth Graben took a page almost right out of Kyser’s book before she could even share the message.

“Do not be afraid to fail. Our lives are not dependent on constant success,” he said. “Our life is filled with wins and losses, and it’s important to accept these losses for what they are—progress. Losing isn’t always a step back in your goals, but can actually help you learn what can be done differently next time. Over the years, it is guaranteed that each of us has failed in some way, and I want everyone here to know that is OK. Success isn’t defined by victory; it’s defined by the path that led you there.”

Graben added that this year’s senior class is tied together forever. Whether they want to stay in Vincent or are ready for a new adventure, he said the community and school will always be home and the foundation for everything that comes next.

“I’ve heard countless times people saying they want to move from Vincent,  myself included,” he said. “But standing here before all of you, I can say with confidence, Vincent has my heart. This wonderful small town in Alabama has blessed my life since I’ve been here, and I wouldn’t change a thing. The people in this community are one of a kind, and the atmosphere is the same. I hope that one day, we can all meet again here and can still feel this familiar feeling. I hope we can all leave here with lifelong connections and memories.”

Salutatorian Chloe Layton, who addressed everyone in attendance as a friend, said the class of 2022 is ready for the next stage because of that foundation.

“The class of 2022 welcomes this next stage of life with open arms,” she said. “Over the past four years of high school, I’ve watched this class go through trial after trial, both external and internal, I’ve seen this class lose hope and regain it all in the same day.”

Looking back on her time, she remembered all the way back to second grade and looking up to see the number 2022 in the hallway representing what year the kids would graduate.

Then, that seemed lightyears away, but on the night of graduation, she realized just how fast it went by.

“Those were years that obviously could not exist in the mind of a second grader in 2012,” she said. “I remember coming up in the high school in fifth grade and being told these are the hallways I’d walk for the next seven years until I graduate. ‘That’s so far away,’ I remember thinking. But standing before you tonight as the salutatorian of the class of 2022, I have no idea where all those years went. I have no idea what happened to yesterday.”

Despite how quickly it passed, she was extremely grateful for everyone who helped her along the way, saying they truly saved her life and turned her into the person she is today.

Principal Lauren Yancey echoed Layton’s sentiment, saying it has gone by in a hurry.

“To state the obvious, time moves quickly,” she said. “And for some of us, that’s a good thing, but for some of us that’s a hard thing, but for all of us it is a sure thing. Time continues to move, but it’s what we do with it that matters. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, your time spent here these last few years, whether you loved it or whether you hated it, means that this is your home and you are always welcome to home. Class of 2022, I am so happy to have known you. Congratulations.”