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Angela Major and Anthony Wahl

WATCH: Janesville Craig graduates learn life is like mountain climbing

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Jonah Beleckis
Thursday, June 8, 2017

JANESVILLE—The Monterey Stadium scoreboard showed 20:17 left in the fourth quarter as about 409 Craig High School graduates and their families and supporters filled the stadium Wednesday.

The stands were packed nearly 30 minutes before the ceremony's start time. That forced  many attendees to stand near the field or set up lawn chairs beyond the stadium's fences, where the view was not the best but names, cheers and air horns could be heard loud and clear.

Still visible were the beach balls graduates knocked around between speakers.


The east-facing stands were nearly all in the shade by 7 p.m., but families still wanted their fair share of $1 bottles of water—almost as if it were noon in the middle of a turf field.

One girl bought eight bottles and needed help carrying them.

One boy in the stands, playing games on a phone larger than his own hands, took a big gulp of water before a family member said, “OK, you have to save some for the rest of us.”


“From this day forward, it's up to you,” said class President Bruna Rubini during her welcome address.

As she spoke to the sea of graduates, she marveled at the different paths her classmates would take: Go to college, join the workforce, serve the country or anything else.

She cited the class motto: “This is the beginning of anything you want.”

“Live your life your way,” she said.


Consistent with graduation speech tradition, acting Principal Monte Phillips picked three quotations to share with the students.

The first was from TV host and actress Ellen DeGeneres: “Follow your passion. Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else's path. Unless you're in the woods, you're lost and you see a path. Then by all means, you should follow that.”

Then from comedian Jon Stewart: “The unfortunate yet truly exciting thing about your life is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective.”

Finally, from Steve Levitan, creator of the TV show “Modern Family” and speaker at the 2017 UW-Madison graduation ceremony: “Just put down your phones and drive.”

Phillips noted that he left out a word that Levitan inserted between “your” and “phones.”


Valedictorian Sophia Werner also did some research to prepare for her speech. She studied the late David Foster Wallace's famous 2005  “This Is Water” graduation speech at Kenyon College.

She referenced Wallace's idea that our innate default setting is that we consider ourselves the center of the universe. She called for her classmates to step back, consider those around them and share that center with others.

Speaker Jie (Jeremy) Zhou, a student from China, said when he came to Craig, he was nervous his English wouldn't be very good, among other things.

“I was worried about Americans. They are tall and strong. Everyone has a gun,” Zhou said to laughs from the crowd. “My mom told me, 'If you see someone getting mad, just stay away from them.'”


In sight of the vacant General Motors plant, guest speaker and 1985 Craig graduate Marnie Pearsall described her past as a shy Craig student with a father who worked for 35 years at General Motors.

After both of her parents died last year, she said she felt like she lost her home. But she recalled her roots at Craig and in Janesville and what those communities gave her, including her “passion for learning.”

That shy student who was picked last in gym class went on to become a doctor, Ironman competitor and mountain climber who eventually took her talents to Mt. Everest.

“Mountain climbing is a lot like life,” Pearsall said. “You must be there for others as we are all learning our individual limits. When appropriate, hold on tightly with everything you can. But also let go lightly.”

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