Spain Park class of 2023 challenged to follow dreams at graduation

Published 3:48 pm Thursday, May 25, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

HOMEWOOD – Spain Park High School’s class of 2023 celebrated their accomplishments at their graduation ceremony at Samford University’s Pete Hanna Center on Wednesday, May 24, but they also had the chance to reflect on their journey and be inspired to make the most of their lives.

One of the valedictorians for 2023, Riley Ashford, told the graduates to embrace all of the challenges that laid ahead of them.

“Trust in your abilities, take risks, and follow all your dreams,” Ashford said.

She remarked on how her generation is often known for its independence, and while that is often a good trait that empowers us to make choices for ourselves, too much independence can lead you to refuse to exchange ideas with others.

She asked her fellow graduates to always take time for others and listen to them. She echoed the words of Maya Angelou by reminding her class that “people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Class of 2023, as we embark on the next phase of our lives, let’s keep in mind that it’s not particular actions or the words we choose that will be remembered,” Ashford said. “Instead, it’s the lasting impact we leave on others… and relationships that truly matter.”

The impact that Fiona Selle’s relationships left on her will be what she cherishes most. Selle, another valedictorian who has been in Spain Park’s school system for her entire life and, by her own admission, is an introvert, decided to prioritize relationships with her classmates in her senior year.

She reaped more rewards from that decision than she could have imagined, and she urged her classmates to cherish people while they’re around them.

“Show the people you love that you love them,” Selle said. “Go hug your family, go play with your pets, go make new memories with your friends, tell stories, make jokes.”

She reminded them that while up until now, their lives have been planned out for them, it won’t be that way anymore.

“Now you have the choice,” Selle said. “You have the opportunity to choose your own trajectory.”

Senior class president Evan Houser gave his classmates some tips about choosing how to live their lives. He challenged them to give life their all so they could live with no regrets.

“College is going to be hard. Life is going to be hard,” Houser said. “But if you study for a final with everything you’ve got, or train for a game or competition with everything you have, or give a relationship everything you have, it doesn’t matter the outcome. You’re still a winner.”

Houser might have been the most qualified to reminisce on the class of 2023’s journey to graduation as he served as class president for all four years of high school. However, he took an unconventional approach.

“Most people think that the most memorable high school experiences are ones like homecoming and prom,” Houser said. “But I believe it’s the little things that make our high school experience so memorable.”

Instead of listing all the big moments of his time in school, he looked back on taking side hallways to class with friends to catch up, going to Buffalo Wild Wings after every home game as a group and even surviving the neon Nike Elite sock craze in elementary school.

It’s those little memories that first year principal Dr. Amanda Esslinger will always cherish. As her first graduating class, she couldn’t help but get emotional over all the words of encouragement she received and students telling her about their college commitments.

“Teaching you will forever hold a special place in my heart for the way which you welcomed me to Spain Park,” Dr. Esslinger said.

She remembered what one of her teaching colleagues once told her about graduation being a joyful moment because the students were doing what the teachers wanted them to do and moving on to bigger and better things.

With graduates moving on to schools in over 30 states and three countries, and some pursuing professional or military careers, there’s no doubt her words were true and bigger and better things are on the horizon for the class of 2023.

And as the graduates tossed their caps in the air, there was also no doubt that graduation was a joyful moment that the Spain Park class of 2023 will remember forever.