Helena High School celebrates 2022 graduating class

Published 8:20 am Thursday, May 26, 2022

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By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

HELENA – The Pete Hanna Center at Samford University was packed on Monday night, May 23 with proud families and teachers as the 2022 Helena High School seniors filed into their seats ready for graduation.

Members of the Helena City Council were present including Chris VanCleave, Leigh Hulsey (whose daughter was also a member of the graduating class), Laura Joseph and Mayor Brian Puckett, who made a speech to the graduating students.

“To the graduating class of 2022, tonight is a night that each of you have all worked so hard to see. Individually you have accomplished a lot to be sitting in these chairs, but as a group together, you will always be known as the Helena High School class of 2022.”

Puckett encouraged the students to take chances and follow their dreams and recited the famous “Man in the Arena” quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“No matter if you succeed or fail, do not ever give up on getting back into the arena,” Puckett told the graduating class. “Do what you love and never stop moving forward. You will always be able to call Helena home. This city will always be here with open arms to welcome you and hold you tight. Go out there and continue making Helena proud.”

After the school choir performed a rendition of The Highwomen’s song “Crowded Table,” the 2022 salutatorian Lindsey May thanked the teachers and parents of Helena High School for their continuous support and guidance through the class’s four years. May discussed the memories she has built during her four years at the high school and how Helena has shaped her into the person she is today.

“As I take a moment to reflect, I have realized that the question that we all must ask ourselves is ‘How will we remember our high school years?’” she posed. “Will we remember the past with pride and think of how we got to where we are now, or rush to the future without looking back? Our future, filled with endless opportunities, would not be possible if it wasn’t for our past, the education that we have received, and the people we have been surrounded with.”

May commented on the tumultuousness of the past four years and how through resilience and strength, the class of 2022 has pulled through together and are ready to take on the future.

“We have all made memories that will last us a lifetime, between school dances, cheering on the Huskies in every sport, or even just in the classroom, each of us has something that we can take away with us,” she said.

May encouraged her classmates to think of graduation as a celebration of the good times and hard-earned achievements.

“Leaving behind our home is a daunting task and will come with its challenges, but we are nothing short of prepared with the tools needed to face the world,” she said. “These years were the formative years of our entire lives, and have laid the foundation for all of the opportunities to come.  Each test we’ve taken, each paper we’ve written, and each time we’ve sat in a classroom over the years has taught us how to become the people that we are today and shaped us for our futures. We have pushed ourselves and done things that we never thought we could and have made it so far from our days on the playground. We have lived through unprecedented events and still found our way to make the most of it and have made it out on the other side to walk across this stage.”

The 2022 valedictorian Jacob Ritondo followed May with a speech discussing his drive for perfection and his long-term desire to be valedictorian of his graduating class. He described having crippling anxiety and a desire for perfectionism his entire life, particularly when it comes to his grades.

“It’s funny because both of these main worries of mine, social and scholastic, are hinged on the idea of the necessity of perfection,” Ritondo said. “For the former, it’s that an interaction will not go as smoothly as possible or that I will be judged, that someone’s idea of me will not be perfect. For the latter, it’s a fear of failing myself, feeling as if I’m not smart enough and thus worth nothing.”

Ritondo said he saw earning the title of valedictorian was a way to conquer his crippling anxiety and social fears, commenting on how seeking validation from outside sources and achievements is rampant in our modern day society.

Ritondo then told the crowd how he also based his identity upon being accepted into an ivy league school, such as Princeton and he was forced to confront his fears when his ivy league choices were not able to accept him until the 2026 school year.

“I was forced to face the ugly fact that everyone must understand, as the Rolling Stones so eloquently put it, you can’t always get what you want,” he said. “Despite having already been made valedictorian and accepting the Trojan horse of rewards that accompany it in my mind and reveling in my external validation of my worth it yielded, as soon as devastation hit from my rejection, the house of cards I had built came crumbling down. However, after consulting friends, loved ones and Miss McKinney, I received the motivation I needed to rebuild this house on a firmer foundation, on the invaluable lyrics that follow in that Rolling Stones song, you get what you need.”

Ritondo encouraged his classmates to embrace uncertainty and understand that they should not fear taking chances.

“Perhaps instead of viewing the future as a single path to happiness, we might better serve ourselves viewing the present moment as if we’re almost there…because if you look hard enough, we might just find something perfect inside ourselves and our situations. After all, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might just find you get what you need.”