Iris Kolenich, a member of the Buckhannon-Upshur Class of 2019, shows off her diploma Friday night at the school's 132nd commencement. Kolenich was among 247 students to earn degrees.

BUCKHANNON – A major theme of the keynote speaker’s address at Buckhannon-Upshur High School’s graduation ceremony Friday – “serve, serve, serve” – seemed particularly fitting Friday evening on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day, which falls on Monday, May 27, is a U.S. public holiday during which Americans pay tribute those who have died fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Recruiter for the Memphis Grizzlies NBA basketball team, Chris Wallace, delivered a few nuggets of life advice prior to 247 graduates of B-UHS walking across the stage to collect their diplomas at the 132nd Annual Commencement at Rockefeller Center on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Chris Wallace, who works in the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team and a 1976 graduate of B-UHS, delivers the keynote speech Friday at the school’s 132nd Commencement.

One of them was to serve – whether it be in the military, through teaching, mentoring, volunteering or in some other line of work.

“Serve others – serve, serve, serve,” said Wallace, a 1976 graduate of B-UHS, whose early efforts in his career catapulted him into such prestigious positions as general manager of the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies. “Martin Luther King said this much better than I can. ‘Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.’”

Summa cum laude graduate Hannah Hollen

“You don’t have to have a college degree to serve,” Wallace continued. “You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics of physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by Love, so serve, serve, serve others.”

Wallace said graduates would also inevitably face a decision between two kinds of pain: the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret.

“Achieving and accomplishing your goals and making good life decisions and self-discipline. The alternative is later regret – often a lifetime of regret,” he told the Class of 2019. “Which would you rather experience – the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret? It’s your choice.”

The Class of 2019 waits for Friday’s commencement ceremony to get underway.

Wallace also urged graduates to refrain from measuring their success against others’ successes.

“Comparing yourself to others is futile,” he said. “You’ll always have a neighbor with a bigger, nicer house, someone you know will probably make more money or have a superior job. Someone is always going to be better looking than you. That’s life, it’s not fair. Set up your own definition of success instead of copying everybody else’s definition.”

Dr. Sara Stankus and Dr. Debra Harrison congratulate magna cum laude graduate Taylor Chapman.

And on the brink of Memorial Day weekend, Wallace urged graduates to remember they were lucky to have been born in the United States, saying everyone who is has “won the geographic Powerball lottery.”

He said despite current problems like the addiction epidemic or past blights like Jim Crow-era segregation laws which limited the freedoms of black people in the U.S., the country is still a shining light compared to many places on Earth.

“No country in the history of the world has a greater multi-ethnic success story than we do or offers a better array of opportunities than the good old U.S. of A.,” Wallace concluded

Alexander Paugh and Josh Riley congratulate each other outside Rockefeller Center following commencement. “We made it, man!” Paugh told Riley.

One 2019 graduate couldn’t be present to hear Wallace’s words of wisdom due to a serious health condition, senior Kerri Monnett.

“Before we get into our celebration, there is one member of the current Class of 2019 who is unable to be here tonight because of a serious medical condition,” B-UHS Faculty Senate Chairperson Brent Kimble told the audience. “Kerri Monnett, a member of the Buckhannon-Upshur Class of 2019, is currently awaiting a transfer to Johns Hopkins University Medical Center to help with … some serious [medical] issues that Kerri is facing. On behalf of Buckhannon-Upshur faculty and staff, the graduating class of 2019 and all Upshur County Schools, our thoughts and prayers are with Kerri during these tribulations.”

Kimble asked attendees to have a moment of silence to honor Kerri and her family and “let them know that she is here with us, and we are celebrating her accomplishments along with the rest of the Class of 2019.”

During a touching moment later in the evening, Shayna Moran, Kerri’s sister, walked across the stage later in the ceremony to collect her sibling’s diploma on her behalf.

Kerri Monnett’s sister, Shayna Moran, heads offstage after receiving her sister’s diploma.

In addition to Wallace, several other speakers addressed the Class of 2019, including Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Dr. Sara Stankus and Upshur County Board of Education President Dr. Tammy Samples.

“You have a voice, graduates – use it,” Stankus said. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. But let me caution you: Using your voice doesn’t give you the right to be disrespectful. Choose kindness and compassion always over pride and winning.”

Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus speaks to the Class of 2019.

Stankus challenged the Class of 2019 to have more real-world interactions than Twitter and Facebook posts.

“Don’t be the generation that hides behind social media, but learn to look people in the eye, give them a firm handshake, keep your promises and then, let your voices be heard,” Stankus said. “Never get tired of standing up for what’s right or doing what’s right.”

The Class of 2019 files into Rockefeller Center.

Samples urged graduates not to measure their lives by stereotypical milestones, but rather, to be guided by their own intuition and sense of timing.

“Time is linear, but your life doesn’t have to be,” Samples said. “Don’t feel like you need to accomplish your goals by a certain age; life is more flexible than we give it credit for. And last, someone’s going to have a great life: It might as well be you. Believe it, embrace it, and then remember to listen, learn and give back.”

Upshur BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples congratulates graduates.

Summa cum laude graduates Hannah Hollen and Evan Trent delivered student addresses. The B-UHS Band, under the direction of Garrett Friend, and the Buckhannon-Upshur Sound Waves and B-UHS Concert Choir provided musical entertainment.

Destiny Babbitt, Class of 2019, performed a stunning solo during the B-UHS Concert Choir’s rendition of ‘He’s Never Failed Me Yet.’
B-UHS Concert Choir and Sound Waves director Jeremiah Smallridge leads the concert choir during ‘He’s Never Failed Me Yet.’

The concert choir performed “A Million Dreams” with soloists Iris Kolenich, Will Selauder, George Ware and Chelsea Humphrey and “He’s Never Failed Me Yet” featuring soloist Destiny Babbitt.

Benjamin B. Tenney, Class of 2019, cum laude
Nicklaus Calef-Boring, 2019 cum laude graduate