When it came time to reflect on the character of the Corvallis High School class of 2018, many of the speakers at the school's graduation Friday night noted the same two events:
The first moment: a human rights assembly organized by student body co-president Rose Martines where students talked about the importance of equity and inclusion.
And the second: a pair of Special Olympics United basketball games held at the school where a majority of the school turned out to cheer on both their classmates and the visiting athletes.
Matt Boring, Corvallis High's principal, was one of the first to bring up those events. He referenced remarks Hillary Clinton recently made at a graduation where she made a nonpartisan call for everyone to have “radical empathy” for each other.
Boring said many adults have shamefully let their levels of empathy drop to the point where people can no longer even have meaningful dialogue. But he said Corvallis High students, and the 330 members of this year's graduating class, have already been displaying this "radical empathy" through moments like those two events.
“Empathy for someone can build community and breaks down barriers,” he said.
Boring said many people talk about things that they believe are their rights. But he wanted the students to remember that they have obligations as well, as being empathetic was among those.
“We are obliged to be decent. We are obliged to be kind. We are obliged to think critically,” he said.
Boring said he was privileged to have served as principal for the students and thanked them for taking him along on their journey through high school.
“You’ve constantly reminded me to never underestimate teenagers,” he said.
Martines and her co-president, Mona Wong, also touched on themes of empathy in their joint address.
“Let’s never become ignorant or narrow-minded,” said Martines. “Let’s always be loving and respectful in all that we do.”
Wong congratulated her classmates on overcoming as much as they did to graduate.
“I won’t pretend to know each of your stories, but every single one of us has overcome something … every single one of us has fought to get this far,” she said.
James Wilson, a senior class co-president, talked in his address about how many students at Corvallis High had to go through more than their peers ever knew, such as needing to work to support their families or having to serve as surrogate parents to their siblings.
“We don’t know what people are going through,” he said. “On the outside some people may look like they have perfect lives while we never understand what’s going on in the inside.”