In a Nebraska town that’s been a battleground over illegal immigration, two Fremont High School girls delivered a graduation speech that embodied racial cooperation.
Their message was not so much in what Hannah Leeper and Mandy Montante Gonzalez said at the Midland Events Center, but in how they said it.
They tag-teamed the graduation speech, Leeper addressing graduates in English, and Gonzalez in Spanish — the first dual-language graduation speech at the school, according to Chuck Story, former principal and special populations coordinator at the high school.
“Fremont is primarily white and Latino,” said Gonzalez, 18, who is of Mexican descent. “Me and Hannah kind of represented that.”
This past school year, enrollment at the school was about 68 percent white and 29 percent Hispanic.
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Omaha Brownell Talbot
It’s a big, bad world out there. So, while we aspire for greatness and live a life rich with meaning, we must also remember to keep the ones we love close. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today. And the future wouldn’t be as bright as it is right now.
Council Bluffs St. Albert
(Former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim) Valvano talked about what it means to have a great day.
Coach said that one should laugh, cry and think every single day, and that these would then be known as “great” and “fulfilling” days.
As I was listening to (his famous ESPY) speech it struck me that Coach was telling everyone to be alive every day. ... The St. Albert community has provided each of us with a platform to strive to be the best versions of ourselves, and to truly be alive. St. Albert is a place where we could all be who we wanted to be.
We are the future. We are millennials, and we have to take a stand and make a change and show our elders that we are more than our phones.
We are ready. I mean, I don’t think anything will be as turbulent or difficult to navigate than the Burke hallways during passing period.
During my last four years of high school, Benson has been many things for me. Benson has been a place of love, diversity, struggles and a lot of learning, but most of all, Benson has been a second home to me and many more.
At Central, we refuse to shy away from controversy. On Nov. 11, 2016, 1,000-plus students walked out of school to rally around love and our shared beliefs that our state and our country deserved better, that we, the students, deserve better. We refused to sit back and have our voices suppressed, and took it upon ourselves to enact change. That night, we made national news.
In some ways you can say these past four years have been like a very dysfunctional, funny, bootleg version of “High School Musical.”
My parents instilled in me the power and willingness to succeed. I knew that they did not leave their home, halfway across the globe, for me to pass up on opportunities bestowed on me. They didn’t cross borders for me to hang my head in shame when someone looked down upon me simply because of the color of my skin. I have learned that in this country, I will forever have to work twice as hard as those around me until the prejudice and hate toward my people has vanished.
Douglas County West
Caitlin Caveye and Sarina Thoendel
Hello, my name is Caitlin Caveye, and I’m Sarina Thoendel, and we just saved you a ton of time by combining our speeches. You’re welcome.
As much as I’ve looked forward to this day, I’ve always disliked goodbyes. But as Winnie the Pooh once said, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Be open-minded. I feel that a major problem in this world today is that most people are so closed off in their ideals. They surround themselves with others who feel the same way as themselves. There’s nothing wrong with hanging around people who you have something in common with, but when in the presence of someone who differs from you, instead of being so quick to argue, hear their side of things.
The world has gone through some crazy changes throughout the four years we’ve been in high school. From the beginning of our freshman year with the Ferguson protests and the legalization of same-sex marriage. From Trump winning the election to the Cubs winning the World Series. From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the #MeToo movement, to the March for Our Lives, and every movement in between.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative to get involved in our future.
We were the first class that was required by the state to take the ACT, and the last class to have kids who were born in the ’90s.
How many times have you said “I go to Platteview” and someone responds with “yeah, Plattsmouth.” How annoying, huh? I have always corrected them, letting them know exactly where we are and what we stand for.
Use your hands to pray and build your spiritual relationships, to study and foster your intellect, to stay socially aware and act on injustice, to build community, and to grow through wise freedom. Give to your communities in service. Stand up for what you believe in. Use your hands to unify and empower. Use your hands as future lawyers, doctors, politicians, scientists, actors and entrepreneurs to bring light to others’ lives.
Today is the same day Amelia Earhart set out on her trip across the Atlantic, and I thought maybe I could make some connection saying that just like her we are setting off on a journey to never ... be seen ... again. ... Nope, can’t use that.
No matter what struggles we face in life, we will remain positive, determined and compassionate as we decide our futures. We will show the world what women of Mercy are made of as we work to make it a better place.
Lauren Klingemann and Delaney Gunn
For those of you who don’t know, for our senior prank we camped out overnight at Marian and sat back in lawn chairs as our class dad grilled some barbecue for us at 4 a.m. while we commenced “operation take back upper lot.” As Principal (Susan Spethman) Sullivan even said, “A grill! How INNOCENT!” It was an obvious success when she also let it slip that we are her favorite class.
In our lifetime alone, we have witnessed a terrorist attack that shook the world to its core, the first black president of the United States and students fighting for what they believe in. We have seen the beginning of marriage equality, and have taken the initial steps to slim the wage gap. ... We have seen our world push to be more accepting of and welcoming to all people.
Being a patriot of the United States demands civic engagement. It is important that we stay informed and participate to the fullest extent in our republic. We have a responsibility to help our community because America is not simply a place, it is a people. The ways that we help those people will look different for all of us, but we will all be united in the same goal of making this country the best that it can be.
Unlike many of you, I am actually not a native Nebraskan. Before moving here my freshman year, my view of Omaha was basically one gigantic corn field with a single barrel of hay labeled, “Omaha” ... so it’s pretty safe to say I had a few misconceptions. ... Instead, I found a place where I would experience warm welcomes, endless opportunities and only a little bit of corn.
We were passionate. With issues like gun violence, civil rights, global warming and government corruption filling up our Twitter feeds, Elkhorn students proved that they were not only apt to engage in honest, respectful conversations inside and out of the classroom but were truly passionate about their stance and opinions on issues affecting the nation. We had new clubs form, such as Students of Service, Agents of Change and Going Green for the Greater Good, that are dedicated to solving problems within the nation. Led by eager individuals seeking to make a difference, these clubs have impacted the Elkhorn community and enacted a wave of positive change.
I’m sorry Forrest (Gump) but your mama was wrong. Unlike a box of chocolates, life has a completely unpredictable nature. It is constantly shaping and changing as an individual shapes and changes themselves throughout their own life. There are countless paths an individual can take, and the options are not only those that have been set in front of us. ... Life isn’t like a box of chocolates, because you never know what you’re gonna get, but you do have a say in the matter.
When you look back on high school, you won’t remember the countless days spent in your fifth hour or the amount of times your teacher said, “This will be on the test,” and then it wasn’t. So, what will you remember? You’ll remember how many times you had to walk behind that one person in the hallway as they walked negative miles per hour. You’ll remember that first time you freaked out when Mr. Reposa stopped you in the hallway to look for a pass, which would ultimately cultivate a friendship. You’ll remember the late night drives back from your activities and the stories that went along with them.
William Johnston and Hunter Blum
Let’s not forget about all the valuable lessons we’ve learned in this here institution ... that applesauce can be weaponized ...
Alex Hiscock and Sophia Lanphier
We must never forget to appreciate the little things. A smile, a cup of coffee, an inside joke about the Bennington lice epidemic, not parking at the bus barn. So, we’d like to thank everyone here for all of the little things. They have made a big difference.
Papillion-La Vista South
When we look around us, it seems that civility is a dead art. We see interactions, especially on social media and online, that show too often our lack of respect and disregard for our fellow men. Let’s change that: Let us express ourselves kindly, politely and rationally. It’s never too hard to say “please” or “thank you.” Our voices should be heard. As we go out into the world, pursuing higher education, entering the workforce and involving ourselves in our political society, we should make an effort to communicate our ideas civilly.
Elkhorn Mount Michael
As I lounged around at our senior gathering and thought over what had impacted me the most, I realized that it was my classmates. They are kind, talented and hardworking. From the cross country bus rides to the late night dorm discussions, I know that the experiences I have had with these people will remain with me for the rest of my life. Almost nowhere else can you find such a brotherhood of accomplished young men.
Not only did we personally grow, the district of Gretna grew with us. In order to accommodate our title as the fastest growing town in the state, the district opened three additional elementary schools and a second middle school. When we started our educational journey, Gretna could have been called a drive-through town and suburb of Omaha. Now we’ve made it big; we have an outlet mall and a Juice Stop.
I remembered I had to write this speech. So, being the responsible individual that I am, and in my usual fashion, I waited until this morning to write it. But in my defense, I did look up graduation speech tips, and according to speechtips.com, “speeches should be rehearsed, but never seem too practiced.” I do not anticipate this to be an issue.
Gonzalez said she was born in the United States, the oldest of five children. Her father is from the Guanajuato province in Mexico and her mother from Veracruz, she said.
Leeper and Gonzalez earned the opportunity to speak at graduation by finishing among the 13 top-ranked students in their class.
The girls, in their speech, did not specifically address race — not in their words.
They worked on the speech together, building it around an allegory from “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.
The pair learned of the story in Advanced Placement English literature class.
The story tells of a boy who must explore a beautiful castle while carrying — and not spilling — a spoonful of oil. The challenge of the tale is how to stay focused on the details without missing the beauty all around.
“There is something to learn from this in the hustle and bustle of society today,” Leeper, 18, told the crowd. “Life’s purpose is not solely to focus on what we have in our own little spoon. Dedicate a little time in your life to appreciate something other than your own goals, whether it be family, friends, nature, volunteering.”
Gonzalez said Spanish was her first language. She said her parents only speak Spanish, though her father knows a little English.
She said that by delivering the speech in Spanish it reached out to the Spanish-speaking parents at graduation, making them feel comfortable and welcome.
Leeper knows some Spanish, but she intends to learn a lot more in college. She is headed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha to study secondary education with an endorsement in Spanish — she wants to teach Spanish in high school.
Gonzalez plans to continue her education at Metropolitan Community College, where she’ll study social work.
The city of Fremont has been ground zero for the battle over illegal immigration since 2010, when voters approved an ordinance prohibiting hiring and renting to people who entered the U.S. illegally.
Most recently, opponents of a chicken-processing operation that Costco wants to build in Fremont have pushed back with a variety of concerns, including that it will attract immigrant workers who are living in the country illegally and who will put a financial strain on social services and schools.
Both girls said they were too nervous giving their speeches to notice how well it was received by the crowd, though Story assured them that they got hearty applause.
Afterward, they said they got many compliments. They think it helped people to see things a little differently.
“I think it was a good step forward for the community,” Leeper said.