Welcome back to classes, to familiar faces you haven't seen in three months, to homework and teachers and long walks from the stadium to the locker bays. For some of you, this is your last year as a student at this campus. But for many of you, this is just another year.
All of you share one thing in common. You are returning to a school brushed with tragedy. You were one of the students sheltered in lockdown or you were rushing as fast and as far away as you could. I never imagined I would see my high school featured on CNN. A year later, I cannot begin to understand the grief, loss, and pain you have all processed.
It is never easy returning to a place that holds painful memories. While some of you have a more personal connection than others, it is wise for all of us to acknowledge that the trauma exists. While there is nothing anyone can do to erase the events you all experienced last fall, you have the power to make this year a positive experience.
I have some unsolicited advice for you to help you through the next nine months. Consider this my back-to-school gift to you.
1. Be Brave - Whether you were in the cafeteria last October, or somewhere else on campus, you are all survivors. Your scars tell stories that could lead to someone else's healing. Do not be afraid to share your stories. Stand tall and proud to be where you are today.
However, life in high school comes with a host of other fears that are not unique to MPHS.
To the picked on and teased kid who dreads the bus ride to school, be brave and know that your bullies do not define you. You are capable of greater things than they could ever imagine.
To the infatuated hesitant to ask out that boy or girl because you're afraid they'll break your heart, ask anyways. I promise you that you will always regret it if you don't do it.
To the nervous waiting for the college acceptance letter, trust in your accomplishments. You will end up where you need to be.
To the athlete scared of failing in a game winning play, do the best you can. Win or lose, the whole city is on your side. Even outside Marysville, you have alumni cheering you on from all across the US.
To those worried you might not have enough credit to graduate, afraid you might humiliate yourself at the homecoming dance, scared of your best friend's driving habits, wondering if anyone will accept you for who you really are, imagining that you will never be anything more than a hopeless kid from a small suburb, be brave.
2. Be You - Stop trying to be normal; normal doesn't exist. As cliché as it may sound, there is only one you. You are the only you that exists and every shred of my being believes that you are here for a reason. Embrace it.
Our culture seems to crave conformity yet it values individuality. Turn on the radio and you are sure to hear a song about someone celebrating their uniqueness.
When I was a kid, De La Soul had a song called 'Me Myself and I' declaring " I'm proud of what I am."
Shortly after I was out of school, DMX rapped "How about you wanting to be just like you? You can do what I do, just in your own way,' on a song called 'Do You.'
Ten years ago, Audioslave followed the theme with their single 'Be Yourself.' "To be yourself is all that you can do."
And a couple years ago, Paramore sang "Why do you care what people think?" on 'Anklebiters' and encouraged you to "fall in love with yourself."
3. Be Present - This is not about school attendance, although it could be. Being present is more about being there when you are there. Life is filled with distractions and it is easy to get lost inside them. I know because I was one of those students who spent more time daydreaming than listening to the teachers. These days, my phone distracts me from the 3D world around me. Avoiding those diversions give you a greater chance of fully experiencing everything your time at MP has to offer.
It takes practice and had been encouraged in many cultures throughout history.
The Buddhists call it Sati and it is an essential part of the practice of Buddhism: meditation, focused breathing, and awareness of all thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.
In Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul wrote "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
The Stoics of Ancient Greece followed a concept called προαίρεσις (prohairesis) in which moral judgments and decisions were made with full attention to what was in the individual's control.
Modern psychology describes it as mindfulness. It is being used to relieve stress and treat addiction, depression, anxiety, and disorders like OCD.
4. Be Intentional - Do things on purpose. Crazy things. Audacious things. Smart things. Your term papers, your extra-curricular activities, your circle of friends, where you hang out after school. Have a reason to do what you do.
The duration of high school will only be a short blip in the span of your lifetime and you will either look back at it with fondness or regret. How the future version of you reflects on these years is in your control now.
Being intentional will help you shape memories that are worth remembering.
Being intentional will build bonds with friends that will last far beyond your youth.
Being intentional reveal moments of joy in unexpected circumstances.
Being intentional gives you a goal, something to work for, something to hope for.
Being intentional will benefit you beyond the walls of MPHS. It will make you a better student, a better romantic partner, a better parent, a better friend, a better employee, a better artist, a better entrepreneur.
5. Be Gracious - A funny thing about grace: it is the one thing we all need and yet none of us deserve it. Granting grace is one of the greatest acts you can do for anyone.
We show grace through patience, forgiveness, and gratitude.
Be thankful for your teachers. Even the ones you don't like.
Be thankful for what you have, even if it isn't much.
Forgiving others does more for you than the person you forgive.
Second chances are far more rewarding than grudges.
Everyone has a bad day. Everyone bears a burden. Everyone wrestles with their own demons.
My final though is perhaps the most difficult. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in admitting that you can't do everything on your own. It's OK to not be OK. Ask for help, you might be surprised where you find it.
I give you my best wishes. May the 2015/16 school year be your best year ever.
Alumnus - class of '97