It was a long, discursive story within a story within a moral. By the time Matanzas High School Principal Chris Pryor was finished telling it as the centerpiece of his commencement address tonight, it wasn’t clear, from hesitant laughs and shrieks, if the nearly full house at the St. Augustine Amphitheater understood it was over, or what the moral was–which may have partly been Pryor’s point.
“My dad,” Pryor had told the 327 blue-clad graduates sitting pool-like on the floor of the amphitheater, “was a pretty smart guy and he tried to tell me things. He tried–he told me a lot of stories as I was younger, and I just thought they were funny and strange stories, but it wasn’t till later that I found out that some of these strange stories were bits of truths that he was trying to tell me, and so as I was preparing tonight I decided to tell one of his stories to you.” Hesitating himself, he wondered: “This is not a very–well, let me see if I can tie it in after I tell the story.”
- 2010: Matanzas’ 318 Senior Pirates Sail Past Commencement
- Photo Gallery: Matanzas High School Class of 2010
- Pride of a Principal, Pride of a Thousand Parents As FPC Class of 2011 Graduates
- Graduation Rates: FPC Falls to 83.5%, Matanzas Soars to 90.4%, Both Beat State’s 79%
So he told it: how his parents had a cabin in a place that had one of those creaky-floored country stores where there’s always a counter and a couple of rocking chairs and a couple of dogs and old men playing checkers or chewing the fat, and how one day his father, visiting the store to buy some nails, saw a pig with a left-rear wooden leg in there. Ol’ Wilbur, belonging to a farmer. Turns out the pig had saved the farmer’s life, his wife’s life, his son’s life, all in successive, fantastic incidents. “If it wasn’t for this pig, none of my family would be alive today,” the farmer tells Pryor’s father, though none of the life-saving miracles explained the wooden leg. So why the wooden leg? “Mister,” the old farmer said, “I’ve been trying to tell you the whole time. This is a very special pig, and with a pig this special, you can’t eat him all at once.”
Pryor empathized with the bemused. “Well,” he continued, “about the time I asked my dad what the heck this has to have to do with anything, and my dad said, son, you’re graduating from high school, and you have a big life, a big special life ahead of you, and you can’t eat it all at once.”
That, then, was the moral, which Pryor emphasized with another metaphor: “A long journey starts with a single step, but you have to keep on stepping.” Someone in the audience yelled out, “Go Wilbur!” After that, it was back to talking destiny and quoting Jean Nidetch (founder of Weight Watchers), Emerson, Douglas Adams (think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). “So class of 2011,” Pryor concluded, “I charge you with the words of William Shakespeare: ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined'” (a line actually straight out of Thoreau, not the old bard).
It’s not every day that a principal gets booed at a commencement ceremony. Pryor heard his share of boos–when he mentioned that in a previous century, he’d attended Flagler Palm Coast High School, Hatfield to Matanzas’s McCoys. “I’ll always be a Bulldog,” Pryor dared, “but right now I’m a Pirate.”
As at Flagler Palm Coast High School’s graduation, there were no valedictorian or salutatorian speeches this year, neither were there valedictorians or salutatorians. The student speeches were the result of conditions and editing: eligible seniors had to be in the top 10 percent of their class and submit 500 to 1,000 words by May 17 for administrative review. “The speech,” students were told, “should reflect the solemnity and importance of the moment, while simultaneously reflecting school spirit.” And rather solemn they were, with Marielena Dias and Jacklyn Rumburger doing the honors.
“What I think I love most about our class and about our school is that everyday some one will make you laugh. Someone will care when you’re upset, someone will share your happiness. And all these someones make up a group of absolutely unforgettable people. Seeing where we’ve all come from, I know that no matter what each of us chooses to do in the future, we will do it well. We will do it with our whole heart. We’ll do it with a smile on our face and we will do it knowing that we will succeed.”
The “we” was not imaginary: 23 Matanzas seniors graduated cum laude (with GPAs between 3.75 and 3.99), 43 graduated magna cum laude (GPAs between 4 and 4.49) and 23 graduated suma cum laude (4.5 or above). In all, 28 percent of the senior class graduated with high honors. The class logged 17,200 community hours, collected $1.2 million in scholarships, and amounted to Matanzas’s fourth graduating class after just six years of the school’s existence.
It’s been Pryor’s role to send them on their way. “My parents didn’t want me to stay where I was, and neither do your parents because right now they’ve already made plans for your bedrooms,” he told them.
Devin Harkins, the student body president, had summed up her farewell this way: “Take care of each other, take care of our country, and take care of our planet.”