MG Grads: Define Your Own Success

Big things come in small packages, or in this case schools. This was the message permeating from inside the walls of Maple Grove High School’s auditorium Friday night.

“Our class certainly supports the notion that you can do big things out of a small school,” said Christina Walter, valedictorian of the class of 2014, while summing up her thoughts about the talented class she was graduating with.

Indeed, this year’s graduating class has an impressive list of accomplishments, including an All-Eastern Honors Choir, a soon-to-be semi-professional hockey player, a singer who has released a successful album and a list of impressive athletes. Salutatorian Caroline Benson noted the contribution of each of the 55 members from the school’s 66th graduating class: “Most people in this class have an awareness of their personalities, and with time they’ve sort of been given permission to be what they want to be, and that is their contribution. We have people who are heavily into politics or music or literature or wilderness or comedic relief. Many contribute exceptionally pleasant and humble personalities, and this strength of character is what holds together all the craziness and brilliance and cynicism of our class as a whole.”

Friends and relatives shuffled into the Maple Grove auditorium on a beautiful summer evening to help celebrate the past accomplishments of the graduates – now looking ahead to the future.

A music video shared pictures of the graduates’ high school careers along with some of their baby pictures, reminding the seniors of the fleeting nature of time.

‘Move forward with confidence,” said Principal Julie Verdonick, who also urged students to “continue to always believe in yourself.”

One of the highlights of the evening was the commencement speech given by Journey Gunderson who was introduced by Superintendent Michael Mansfield. Gunderson was a 2000 graduate of Maple Grove High School and is Executive Director of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnez Center for Comedy and Museum in Jamestown. She spent six years with the Women’s Sport Foundation and was an Editorial Director and Educational Media Producer from both New York City and San Sebastian, Spain. In 2013, she was named one of Buffalo Business First’s “Top Forty-Under Forty.”

During her speech, Gunderson made some inspiring parallels between success and Lucille Ball’s career.

“Lucille Ball didn’t start out knowing she wanted to be a comedian,” Gunderson said. “She was in 42 movies before ‘I Love Lucy’ even happened, was almost 40 years old and had gotten the nickname ‘Queen of the B Movie.’ But it was when she made the live studio audiences of her radio play series laugh that she realized, ‘this is what I’m meant to be doing.’

“It was then that CBS came and offered her an opportunity of a lifetime her own television show. But you can’t plan that moment. You have to work hard until it happens.”

Gunderson also told students that if she had to boil down the key to success in one word it would be “resilience,” and explained how the “red-hair comedian” broke barriers in the 1960’s by becoming a powerful woman in Hollywood and challenging society to accept her multi-cultural marriage.

Gunderson acknowledged that it wasn’t an easy path for Ball.

“Stay in close touch with what is important to you,” Gunderson added. “Because it evolves, it changes. Ask yourself frequently what’s important to you, whether its career, kids, community, making money, changing the world, changing diapers, being there for someone who needs you. And if the way you spent your energy that day is in line with that, roughly, then you are successful.”

Other highlights of the graduation included performances by Amie Adams, who sang Star Spangled Banner, and various members of the senior class who performed “I Will Remember You,” by Sarah Mclachlan.

The Maple Grove High School band also performed Beethoven’s “Song of Joy.”

Perhaps the take-away piece of advice for the evening was offered by Gunderson: “Stop searching for someone else’s definition of success and decide for yourself what it means to you.”