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Whitewater High School graduates 124

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Elliot Hughes
Sunday, June 5, 2016

WHITEWATER—Agriscience teacher Paul Majors delivered the commencement speech in an unusual way at Whitewater High School's graduation ceremony Sunday.

Rather than stay behind a podium, Majors stepped down from the gymnasium stage and strolled around on the hardwood as if he were giving a lecture in his classroom. He invited four students to join him and had them quickly assemble a child's puzzle game. Then he had all 124 graduates stand up and recite 11 maxims to live by.

Those included such proverbs as “I am the most influential person in my life” and “When I change the way I look at things, the things I look at change.”

Majors said he took that less-traditional route because he wanted to send a message about teamwork, that everybody is always a teacher and a student, and working together can solve many problems.

“None of us is as smart as all of us,” Majors said after his speech. “We don't get it unless we work together.”


Before he received an invitation, Victor Fernandez said he had never heard of the peer-mentoring group at Whitewater High.

The group sends upperclassmen to other schools in the district to help younger students who are having problems in the classroom.

Fernandez joined the group and at one point met a fourth-grader with whom he clicked. The kid's parents recently had divorced, and he seemed “depressed.”

Fernandez went through the same thing as a third-grader. And after spending time with the fourth-grader, Fernandez said he felt like he had made an impact.

“He was smiling more,” Fernandez said.

Now, the new high school graduate plans to attend UW-Oshkosh to study social work, a field he had never considered as a career before he became someone's mentor.

“I'm excited. I'm happy,” Fernandez said.


Before the ceremony Sunday, Sally Kate Hixson said she was leaving her high school as a more outgoing and confident version of herself.

She said high school provided her with opportunities that kept her interacting with others, especially older students. Tennis, drama and other activities helped her shed her shy side.

Next fall, she plans to attend Illinois College to study something she didn't expect to study before high school: event planning.

Over the last four years, she lent a hand decorating halls for homecoming and helped the tennis team organize a benefit for a cancer organization. Her ability to come out of her shell set her on a new course.

“It opened me up,” she said.


Devin Samaranayake left his high school career a valedictorian, but as he put it in his speech Sunday, he did not come away as the best at anything.

Samaranayake said he tried joining as many activities as he could in high school, figuring he'd find something in which he was No. 1. But that didn't happen.

“When I tried everything, I never got a chance to focus on one thing,” he said.

Samaranayake advised his classmates to remember there will always be someone better than they are. Rather than being discouraging, that fact should motivate people to be better, he said.

“One of the hardest decisions you will ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder,” Samaranayake said.

Last updated: 6:23 pm Sunday, June 5, 2016

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