‘Comfort in the uncomfortable’: North students commence to the future

Carla Clark For The Republic The turning of the tassels during the 2023 Columbus North High School commencement ceremony in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, May 27, 2023.

Many graduation speakers choose to reference famous writers, philosophers or historic figures during their remarks.

However, Columbus North Class President and Salutatorian Flynn Keele choose to quote a different source as he encouraged his peers to persevere amid hardship.

“In one of my favorite films, the cinematic masterpiece that is ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ Master Shifu explains this best: ‘If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than what you are,’” said Keele.

North held its 2023 graduation ceremony in the Memorial Gym Saturday afternoon.

As he addressed the crowded gym, Keele spoke of the failures and victories he experienced over the past four years and counseled his classmates to keep putting themselves out there.

“Have fun, work hard, and find comfort in the uncomfortable,” he said.

Principal David Clark also spoke to the importance of perseverance amid hard times.

“Graduates, although you may have been through challenges the last few years that many would consider difficult, you are better because of it,” he said. “You have developed strong habits of mind, and you have learned to live the Bull Dog way. Use both as you transition to a world that not only awaits you but a world that needs you.”

Clark noted that at least seven graduates have decided to do this by serving in the armed forces and took a moment to recognize each one, before also recognizing veterans in the audience.

“Class of 2023, you came here with goals and aspirations,” he said. “And today you leave, standing a little taller, reaching a little further, and being a little better. You have entered Columbus North to learn. And having done so, our charge to you now is go forth and serve.”

Or, as Superintendent Jim Roberts quoted country singer Tim McGraw, “Hold the door, say please, say thank you. Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie. I know you got mountains to climb but always stay humble and kind.”

For valedictorian Jessica Meza Sanchez, speaking at commencement was one such mountain, with her calling it her “biggest dream and worst nightmare.”

At the beginning of high school, she was “super shy, insecure and absolutely terrified of public speaking.” It seemed as though her words weren’t important, as they were often drowned out in the noise around her.

“I was convinced that no one cared about what I had to say,” said Sanchez. “So I retreated into silence, locking away my thoughts and personality.”

However, over time, she realized that she needed to share her thoughts and ideas with others in order to grow as a person. Following this realization, she faced her fears by speaking in church and giving a speech when she ran for vice president of Key Club.

Despite her anxiety about these steps, Sanchez found that people were listening to her after all. It gave her the confidence to keep putting herself out there and trying new things.

And as she stood before a crowd of thousands on Saturday, Sanchez encouraged her peers to each use their voice — and to listen to the voices of others.

“Without the encouragement and unwavering support of my classmates, I wouldn’t be the person standing before you today,” she said. “I would still be the shy, overlooked kid hiding in the corner, leaving high school without the amazing friendships and connections that I have. I want to thank the class of 2023 for extending a hand to me. … Above all, I want to thank everyone for listening to me now, whether it’s your first, 100th or last time hearing my voice. I hope that wherever life takes you, whether that be college, the workforce or military, you will continue lifting each other up, because a little encouragement can go a long way.”