Markel: Graduates: Share your story with pride

By Ryan Markel

Editor’s note: Cusick High School geography and history teacher Ryan Markel gave a speech at the senior graduation ceremony Friday, June 4 at the Kalispel Pow Wow grounds in Usk. He shared his speech with The Miner Newspapers. It has been abbreviated for length.

There are many graduation commencements taking place all over America this weekend, yet I doubt any will have a backdrop like this one…this beautiful evening makes me think of the mighty Pend Oreille River right behind us, and how it’s the heart of our community. As a geography teacher I can’t help but to think about how every drop of rain that falls in this valley works its way through sloughs and creeks and eventually spills into this great river. From there it travels up into Canada to join the Columbia. It eventually passes Kettle Falls, snakes between the Tri Cities, and cuts through the Cascade Mountain range, only then does it empty into the vast Pacific Ocean. From there it is anybody's guess as to where those drops of rain are going to end up. But what we do know for a fact is where that journey started. Right here!

To me it seems like one could draw parallels to the situation that the class of 2021 now finds themselves in, about to take that great leap into the unknown perhaps not totally sure where in this world they are going to end up. This transition can be full of challenges and tribulations, but also adventure and accomplishments.

This begs the question, are they ready for this propitious challenge? Well, it depends who you ask. All too often I see pundits on TV or read letters to the editor that disparage and dismiss this generation of young people. These critics usually start with the same three words: “Kids these days” followed by some negative commentary. But I find myself wondering, do these people really know just how tough and amazing these young people are? They wouldn’t say that if they did.

As I stand here tonight, I am reminded of a quote I heard this year from one of my seniors. She said, “Mr. Markel, living through history is exhausting!”

How true that is! Let us not forget: These graduates were born in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. They have lived through two wars and have never known America at peace. As they got a little older, just when things were looking better, here comes the economic turmoil of 2008, not to mention summers of fun cut short and tempered by thick wildfire smoke. Through all this they persevered.

I don't say that because I want you to feel bad for these graduates, I say that because I want you to be as proud of them as I am. Even after a worldwide pandemic and everything that came with that, here they are with smiles on their faces. Resilience and grit will be the words that define these graduates.

History does not judge people by how many times they fall, but rather how that person picks themselves up, dust themselves off and continues to move forward. I have seen these kids do this again and again during the many years that it has been my honor to teach them.

Rather than apprehension these graduates give me hope. When I am old and sitting on the sidelines of life it gives me great joy and comfort to think that this will be the generation running the show. I see great things in their future and know that they have the capacity and determination to make their dreams a reality.

Whether we were traipsing through a rainstorm at Browns Lake or bending the ear of a state senator on the floor of the capitol building in Olympia, these students have always risen to the occasion, and have surpassed my expectations. Simply put, they amaze me. They have seized every opportunity that came their way, all the while overcoming challenges, some public, some private, with poise and maturity beyond their years.

Graduates, my advice to you is this: take what you have learned over the past 18 years from classes, your community, your family and use it to make your mark on the world.

Be determined, grow from adversities, follow your own north star, and be the kind of citizen that future generations can look to. My hope is that when you do accomplish your dreams, wherever you end up, just like those drops of water that fall in this valley, that you remember to come back to the banks of Pend Oreille and share your story with pride.