More than 150 people packed the pews Saturday morning at the Centralia United Methodist Church.
It was not a church service, but for many it was an event equally significant, it was the 25th commencement of the Centralia R-VI class of 2023 Champion Academy.
This year the academy, the district’s alternative school, graduated 11 students from high school to their next steps in the world.
The students’ stated plans for the future are as follows:
• Lillian Baker – Planning on going into the workforce
• Holly Beckfield – Planning on going into the workforce and one day opening up an animal rescue
• Hailey Brewer – Plans on going to school for cosmetology or ultrasound technician
• Kyle Foreman – Planning on going into the workforce
• Kyndall Hargis – Planning on going into the workforce
• Garrett Kimberly – Planning on going into the workforce and one day owning his own business
• David Knight – Planning on going to school for agricultural business
• Emilee Lawson – Planning on going into the workforce and one day being a NICU nurse
• Adrianna Overstreet – Planning on going to cosmetology school
• Hannah Taylor – Planning to become a radiologist
• Caleb Thompson – Planning on getting his CDL and being a truck driver
Not only was it a big step for the 11 graduates, it was also a new step for John Brinkmann, finishing his first year as the academy’s director, coming in after the retirement of Debbie Harper, who led the academy as director for 12 years.
Prior to that Harper served four years as assistant to the academy’s founder, Bobbi Tetley.
“I was very nervous,” Brinkmann said of the morning. “I wanted to make sure I honored our students and their work during their graduation. It was great to see the smiles on each of their faces as they walked across the stage.”
The atmosphere was different from a typical high school commencement, Brinkman said.
“It was definitely more of a family atmosphere. The community, family feel. The work and attendance of members of the Centralia Women’s Network as well as the several past Champion Academy graduates added to the feeling of community involvement and support for those 11 Champion Academy graduates receiving their diplomas. Having past director Debbie Harper there as their commencement speaker also made a big difference.”
Here are excerpts from Harper’s speech.
“The pride of all of you sitting in their shadows today, who have provided the love, guidance and support for this graduation destination, is filling the room around us. But your pride doesn’t remotely compare to that I see on the 11 beaming faces in this front row who are soaring in the clouds today.
There is a quote by a famous poet,…….and we all know that poetry in American and World Literature was your absolute favorite at Champion Academy…………., but the words of this poet, Carl Sandburg, describe what I see in each of you and what I want each of you to visualize in yourself, “There is an eagle in me who wants to soar.”
She continued with her eagle analogy.
“An eagle is visualized as a symbol of commitment, strength, beauty, determination, pride, perseverance, honor, courage, grace, bravery, and keen vision. All of these qualities also describe a “champion” …specifically the 11 champions that we are honoring today. Lillian, who came to Champion committed to being a high school graduate and to becoming the independent, self-reliant, capable young lady we see before us today. Holly, who entered Champion with an extreme quiet strength, never losing sight of her dreams and purpose, continuing to put in the hard work necessary to make her dreams come true as she follows her journey of work and college. Hailey, providing a high level work ethic to set an example of beauty and courage for her son. Kyle, finding the determination to finish high school while carrying an almost full time workload, being a leader and role model for others to follow. Kyndall, who came to Champion as a very proud young lady, realizing her capability as a positive leader, completing her work at Champion with hard work and style. Garrett, who persevered each day and brought many smiles to our faces, who in your own words “gained control of your education”, you allowed yourself to rise above your doubts, to be pushed to your potential, knowing you needed to be the eagle for your precious son Beau. David, who came to Champion with a big personality, always honoring and protecting his family and friends, sharing his passions for cooking, bringing joy to others lives, believing he could do the hard work. Emilee, who came to Champion as a sweet, shy young lady, learning to have the courage to step outside of her comfort zone, continuing to blossom and grow into a beautiful young lady with each accomplishment she conquers. Adrianna, who came into Champion for a short time with great determination, bringing the element of grace as a loving person always wanting the best for others. Hannah, who brought to Champion the element of humor, grace and bravery, blossomed into a special young lady with self-confidence, dreams and determination, soaring above the many obstacles that tried to clip at her wings. I’ll be waiting to hear her name announced for a grammy award one day. And Caleb, coming to Champion with the keen vision to focus on his goal, putting in the hard work to secure his future.
Eagles and champions are rare species that possess the ability to overcome obstacles and soar above everyday life, who choose to take on overwhelming and intimidating tasks most others would never consider. It’s clear an eagle symbolizes so much more than strength, because it was also the integrity and positive attitude that you brought with you every day, or most days, that provided the ability to overcome the storms of life to complete your education and stand as a high school graduate today. Still, as eagles and champions, there is no guarantee you will be sheltered from days of self-doubt, frustration, turmoil, and uncertainty as you take your next step into adult life…..just like young eagles leaving the nest, you will still face falls, obstacles, hurt, and pains, but in learning how to spread your wings and begin to fly, you will have the skills you learned as a Champion Eagle to be able to adapt to change, to be patient in the turmoil, and to realize that your courage is greater than your fear; that your positive energy is greater than the negative influences you might encounter; that your certainty is greater than any doubt you encounter; and most importantly, your passion and purpose are greater than your challenges.
A true champion is someone who can transform the fear, stress and daily challenges of life in order to keep things in perspective and produce extraordinary results. The graduates before me have focused on the attitudes and mindsets to embrace the heart of a champion, they have proven that you must or you had to dream big and do bigger. But remember dreams do not come true just because you dream them, it’s the really hard work, the flapping of the wings, that makes things happen and creates the change. Be resilient and carry on through the storms you will encounter and fly above. When you found the courage to pursue Champion Academy, you chose your own path to shape your purpose, coming out stronger above the clouds of the storm that you each individually faced. You chose to be resilient and overcome setbacks positively and effectively……navigating to turn them into accomplishments. You found opportunities in the problems. You got out of your comfort zone, and chose to fly high.
I want you to look back on the journey that brought you here. What moments challenged you most? I can attest to the moments that challenged your parents, family, friends, and teachers the most……………..but for each of you to realize your most challenging moments is a milestone step. When were you asked to step outside of your familiar territory in order to rise to the occasion of your potential? How have you pushed past your fear? I want you to remember those moments because they will define you and affirm you and remind you that you did this, you completed this journey. You chose to soar and rise above the storm, and now you have the ability to continue to do so.
The wings of an eagle weigh very little in comparison to the weight of its body, but these wings are the foundation that allow the eagle to resist the strong winds and to overcome them. And as you tackle those strong winds and begin to fly, give someone else the opportunity to have their life changed by setting a championship example for them.
A champion decision is based on undeniable belief in yourself, your purpose, and your dream. Rise up and adopt an eagle mentality. Challenge yourself to leave environments where people have accepted less for themselves and are willing to settle for being a turkey or a pigeon, unable to trust the power of their wings to fly higher. Surround yourself with people who are going places and who are on the same mission to soar as you are on.
There is a poem by Erin Hanson that encompasses my message today: “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darlings, What if you fly? As I look at you 11 graduates standing now in front of me, I am beyond certain that each of you will not only fly, but you will spread your beautiful wings, take flight, and soar high like a Champion Eagle.
Congratulations on your high school graduation today. You did it and I am so proud of each and every one of you. I will be standing in awe as I watch you take flight.”