By Devese “Dee” Ursery
As Collinsville High School ushered 475 graduating seniors across the stage into a world of adulthood this weekend, school valedictorian Adylen Johnson urged her fellow classmates to stop wanting to grow up so fast.
“I am honored to be this year’s valedictorian at Collinsville High School,” Johnson said. “We always wanted to grow up and move on to the next level. Throughout all of it we didn’t realize how fast we were actually growing,” Johnson continued.
CHS held its 142 commencement ceremony in the school gym on May 13, honoring its graduating seniors for their perseverance through Covid and its challenges. CHS administrators and Collinsville Community Unit District 10 officials heaped praise and showed glowing pride for the graduating class of 2023.
Dr. Daniel Toberman, principal for CHS and master of ceremony for the graduation kept the celebration moving smoothly with light-hearted banter as he introduced guests and speakers, including Johnson where she explained the difference between growing up and simply growing.
Johnson said that earning valedictorian has been a goal of hers since she was a freshman and is relieved that it is finally over. Johnson had a 4.75 grade point average for the year. She urged her fellow graduates to not be in a rush to be grown ups, but to never stop growing and enjoy their youth and to cherish the memories they’ve made. The time for paying bills and taking care of the household will come soon enough.
Johnson thanked family, close friends, classmates and CHS staff for helping her get to this point in her academic career. Sje credits the advanced classes at CHS, the diversity of the school and its staff, specifically counselor Karen Olsen for preparing her for life after high school. She plans to attend St. Louis University where she will study neuroscience on a pre-med track in hopes of becoming a neurologist.
She is also the recipient of the Presidential Scholarship award, a prestigious award only given to the nation’s brightest graduating high school seniors.
“I never could have done it without all of your love and support,” Johnson said. “I don’t think any of us would be here without all of our friends and family.”
Johnson explained to her peers that growing comes best from failure, so never be afraid to fail, but cautioned them about standing still and not moving forward in life. In closing, Johnson said that her and her peers grew up young, but pledged to never stop building themselves into more knowledgeable human beings.
Johnson’s message to her peers was to stay youthful and have fun with life. She ended her speech with a quote from Walt Disney, “growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.”
CUSD 10 Board of Education President Gary Peccola introduced Alumni Achievement Award winner, Dr. Sarah Stabenfeldt. Stebfeldt graduated in 1998 from CHS where she was an outstanding student and athlete. She was a very active student who was involved with the National Honor Society, student council, Mu Alpha Theta, the Science Club, Spanish Club, Junior Engineering Club. She was also on the basketball, swimming and track teams for CHS.
Stabenfeldt shared a couple of her life lessons with the 2023 graduates that helped her on her path to success. She said that curiosity is critical and is the most important quality that she looks for when recruiting students and trainees to work with her in research.
“I ask, are you interested in learning more,” Stabenfeldt said. “Pursuing knowledge and being curious about life, cultures and the world’s wonders can open endless possibilities.”
Stabenfeldt said that people are also essential to your success. She told students that a network they build will take you far on your path, but the key component is support.
“I have my share of naysayers who doubted me, but I leaned into my support network and continued to excel and thrive,” Stabenfeldt said.
Stabenfeldt’s third lesson was resilience. She reminded the class of how hard and challenging it was during the pandemic, and how they stuck with it and made it out on the other side.
“That resilience and adaptation can be used to your advantage as you navigate the next phases of life,” Stabenfeldt said. “Use that experience to get through this hard time in your life as a tool for success.”
Stabenfeldt’s last lesson was reflection. She wanted students to take time and reflect on who they want to become and remain true to that. She earned her Bachelors of Science degree in biomedical engineering from St. Louis University. She then attended Georgia institute of Technology where she earned her Ph.D in bioengineering.
More information on Stabenfeldt and the Alumni Achievement Award is available in a separate article in this edition of the Times-Tribune.
In his address to the graduates Toberman urged graduates to take on life travels one step at time. “Whatever challenge is next for you, you won’t accomplish it one day, but if you focus on winning in some way everyday you will get there,” Toberman said.
Toberman announced that the CHS graduating class of 2023 earned $5.1 million in scholarship money. He went on to say that graduation is a very special event that took a long time in the making, but there is much more to come.
“As students embark on the phase of their lives, I want to wish them luck,” Toberman said. “I also want to remind them to remember the dedication it took to get this far. They will need that in order to achieve their life goals.”
Gary Peccola, CUSD 10 president said that today is a highlight for the board of education, adding that it is a major milestone in seniors’ lives. He said that they should feel very proud of the resilience they showed in the face of such adversity like a global pandemic.
“If there is just one thing I could add, I would like you to remember that each and every one of you are an important part of our society,” Piccolo said. “No matter what career path you follow, it will take all of you using your individual talents and abilities to keep our communities and our country strong.”
Piccolo also told the graduating class to have pride in whatever it is that they decide to do, do it to the best of your ability and remember that each of you can make a difference.
Dr. Brad Skertich, superintendent of CUSD 10 schools, mentioned that educating students takes team effort between home and the schools. He thanked parents and school officials alike for their dedication to the students and their success. He also congratulated the graduating seniors for their collective fervor.
“Your academic accomplishments, competitive fire and commitment to service brought great pride to our entire district,” Skertich said. “Your years at CHS have been full of academic and social growth which have led to many successes in and out of the classroom.”
Skertich also mentioned the resilience of the graduating seniors, complimenting them on their ability to adapt in the face of adversity. He advised them of when different twists and turns in their personal and professional life pop up to adapt, learn new skills and display patience to make the best out of a difficult situation.
“We are excited about what the future holds for the CHS graduating class 2023,” Skertich said. “We look forward to seeing your many accomplishments in the years to come. Congratulations and don’t ever forget… once a Kahok, always a Kahok.”
The last speaker of the event was Salutatorian Elizabeth Martin. In her closing remarks to the class of 2023, she instructed graduates to look at their diplomas and realize that they are capable of hard work and success.
“Today signifies that we are quickly running out of road and high school is in the rearview,” Martin said. “Don’t look at high school as if you’re reaching a dead end, instead see it like an airport runway. The pavement and asphalt ends, but the plane doesn’t need it anymore because it is taking off – the road ends, but the journey has just started.”