Killingly High School grad urges, 'See the potential in us all'

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Jun. 17, 2013
Killingly High School salutatorian Hollis Smith and valedictorian Yu-sen Wu spoke at the graduation ceremony on June 14.  Photos by D. Coffey.
Killingly High School salutatorian Hollis Smith and valedictorian Yu-sen Wu spoke at the graduation ceremony on June 14. Photos by D. Coffey.

Killingly High School graduated 173 members of the Class of 2013 on June 14. Before being sent on their way to college, careers and military service, the graduates were treated to wide range of advice from their peers. Valedictorian Yu-sen Wu, salutatorian Hollis Smith and 2009 graduate Mary-Beth Kinchen spoke during the commencement exercises. Dane Grauer shared some thoughts after the ceremony.

Smith took the opportunity to thank all of his teachers for inspiring him, pushing him to improve himself and embracing opportunities that came his way. Invited to join the band in the eighth grade, Smith reveled in the chance to perform and even compose his own music. The KHS marching band performed a composition he wrote the summer before his senior year, when it competed against four other school bands in September. When he wanted to study physics in his senior year, Smith’s teachers encouraged him to take an independent study. He will head to the University of Connecticut in the fall to study mechanical engineering, but he will continue to be thankful to the students, staff and teachers at Killingly High who helped him feel like he was part of something bigger than himself.
“Embrace opportunities,” Smith told his classmates. “Never stop learning.”

Dane Grauer, who is heading to the Air Force Academy on June 25, had this advice for students coming up behind him: Do your best. “When you're a freshman, you don't think your grades will impact you,” he said. “If you don't try hard when you're a freshman to make sure your grades are good, it'll come back at you when you're older. Always do your best. You don't want to regret your days in high school.”

Grauer has wanted to serve his country for a long time. If he didn't get accepted into a military academy, he had planned to join ROTC in college. “Either way, I wanted to serve,” he said. He was awarded the Ben Desaulnier Scholarship for his scholarly and athletic achievements during his four years at KHS.

Guest speaker and 2009 KHS alum Mary-Beth Kinchen had a different slant. A 2013 Gettysburg College graduate, Kinchen offered insights she'd gathered during college. “Keep an open mind,” she said. It was cheerleading that led her to study abroad in Ireland, she said. And while there, she became immersed in peace and social justice issues. She went to political discussions and conferences, and saw as much of the country as she could. “Take every opportunity that comes your way,” Kinchen said.

And don't be surprised at where your experiences might lead you, Kinchen said. It was a lawyer she met who opened her eyes to the educational injustice across the country. Kinchen will start student teaching in Mississippi in the fall. “Every experience counts,” she told the graduates. “Meet as many people as you can. Never give up. And believe in yourself.”

But it was valedictorian Yu-sen Wu who perhaps gave the wisest assessment and advice of all the speakers. “I am the perfect example of a perfect failure,” he told the crowd. The future engineer and Worcester Polytechnic School student, Wu said, “High school is meant to prepare us for life, to make decisions. I regret that all I did was study and pass classes and tests.”

He recognized his mother in the audience. He remembered his father, who wasn't able to attend because he was at work. Then he turned to his classmates sitting behind him. “Whatever you do, you must get the most out of it,” he said. “You must milk it for everything it’s worth.”

“I don't think I'm smarter than anyone,” Wu said. “We all have potential.” Then he asked the audience to look at the Class of 2013 sitting on the bleachers before them. “See the potential in all of them,” Wu said. “These students are the future.”

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