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  • Jerome Kocher

30. My 2021 Commencement Address


The last time I spoke before a graduation class was 1968. I was Salutatorian for my own senior high school class. I couldn’t sleep the night before so I got up and practiced and practiced. But here I stand again before a different class, 53 years later, as a former teacher at Sweetwater High, addressing many of the graduating Seniors whom I taught in their Junior year.


For the record, no one invited me to speak today. That’s because there will be no normal in-person ceremony to the scale we are accustomed to. And secondly, I am not on anyone’s short list of motivational speakers. So why am I here? I invited myself because I feel justified in sharing some parting thoughts with the last students whom I have taught over the last twenty years.


Seniors, you have many mixed emotions today. You have looked forward to this for years. But it is bittersweet, because you have been given more than an education. This last year you have been handed a strong dose of reality, or unreality depending on your point of view. Your last three semesters have been taken from you. You’ve been held hostage in your own home. No sports, band, cheer or extra-curricular activities. Most likely you may not have seen or heard your classmates, muted and invisible during online sessions. All the emotions and social highlights of senior year have been stolen and you will never be able to replace them. Like early childhood development with stages of crawling, then standing and falling, your teenage years were to culminate in rising up in your Senior Year and finding yourself. And as human beings that takes place in a social environment. But not for you. Not this year.


We are not here to debate why or how this happened. Why or how other states could have open schools with Fall sports, but not here. Why or how private schools within a couple miles of your home have been open all year, but not yours. We will not talk about the dramatic increase in depression and even suicide among our youth. All that is a rabbit hole we will not go down today. Because today you have only one focus. How will you respond?


You have two choices. You can feel this “hole” or void for the rest of your life or you can choose that it makes you stronger. I leave you with an unexpected image today - that of Noah and the Ark. What you think about religion or the Bible is irrelevant for this. Consider Noah as an archetypal image in the evolution of human consciousness and the development of the Individual Self. What do you do when your whole world is washed away in a tempest? When the firm ground of your current life is flooded with doubt or depression. What do you do when the very foundation beneath you collapses like some Atlantean upheaval under a deluge of fear. Yes, Seniors, you have lost something irretrievable. But you get to move on.


Contrast that with the Sweetwater class of 1942, many of whom upon graduation were drafted into WWII, some never to return. They had dreams too, just like you. But the world dealt them a different destiny. And you, even though you may feel cheated, you have your whole life in front of you. Will this make you stronger, or weaker? Will this motivate you to question authority or just go along with herd mentality? Ask yourself, what lessons will you now impart to your children? What wisdom will you harvest from a year of famine?


So we return to the image of Noah. What did Noah do? In the midst of what to him was a global crisis, he remained calm and decisive. He would find firm ground on which to start again. He would not allow the raging storms to destroy his will, rob him of his determination. The name Noah means “bringer of stillness,” the quiet resolve of an individual to “rest in one’s own self confidence.” To find peace in the eye of the storm.


I am not saying anything you don’t already know. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. At this point in your young life you have been dealt a heavy, heavy blow. But the silver lining in that darkened grey sky is the opportunity for you to find within yourself a stillness and calm to overcome adversity and create the life that you deserve. But only you can do that. Only you can find that firm resolute ground on which to stand after the flood subsides.


This was Sweetwater High’s Centennial Anniversary Year. And guess what? In the past 100 years of this school’s history, what happened to you has never, ever happened to any class before. You are unique and have the scars to show it. In high school not everyone merits a letterman jacket with a varsity letter. But whatever wound you may have felt this last year, that is your Sweetwater badge of courage, Medal of Honor. But it only has value if it becomes a seed for your determination to sail forward towards your goal. And like Noah, may the dove of your search return to you with an olive branch, bringing peace within your heart.


Your mission, should you accept, is to be a “Bringer of Stillness, Calm and Peace” to yourself, your family and the world around you. That is the wisdom and gift of this last year. Most seniors graduate in a naive bubble of what the world is. For many of you, that bubble has been burst. And you are stronger, better and wiser for it. You have braved the storm!


Centennial Class of 2021 - Congratulations. You are some of the best that Sweetwater has to offer. And on behalf of the administration, teachers and school wide staff . . . we are not only proud of your achievements, but of your struggle. You are marked as different from any other class in the last one hundred years. Use that to motivate yourself and make us and yourself even prouder.


Thank You. And All the Best to the Class of 2021.


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Catherine Torres
Catherine Torres
Apr 13, 2021

We may be seperated by the building of SUHI, but NEVER our spirit within the fire that burns for all 100 years of pride within education. Specially of those teachers that made up of our school. SUHI LIVES , Class of 2021 Catherine S. Torres

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Catherine Torres
Catherine Torres
Apr 13, 2021

As a student of Sweetwater Highschool Class of 2021; My former teacher Jerome Kocher not only had wisdom of the Historical importance but also the speech that is still relevant to our pain in grace that has lead to the tears of happiness. To this very moment In time, our future depends upon a war between humility and judgement that tolls the bells of conflict. I have not given up to the circumstances to let me lose my dignity...instead I am the army and the doctor of my life. A warrior of my faith that will lead me to the world I create home for myself exploration. The creation out of pain, humanized reality into freedom. My kingdom roamed with…


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Esther Diaz
Esther Diaz
Apr 13, 2021

This is an excellent reflection Jerome! So much to unpack here.

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