Capital High School seniors received their diplomas at Nelson Stadium Saturday afternoon set against a background of a lush green field and overarching, majestic Mount Helena.
The vibrant setting echoed the vibrancy of 2018’s graduating class -- excelling in academia and extracurriculars. Capital High’s principal, Brett Zanto, highlighted the many accomplishments of the senior class, starting with having ACT scores that are well above average for the state of Montana. Thirteen of the graduating seniors were awarded with the MU Scholars distinction, up from the overall average of seven. Only 200 students across Montana are given this prestigious honor.
With academics aside, Zanto pointed out that students excelled in other facets of the high school experience.
“We have a lot of students here, whether it was in the vocational areas, whether it was in the arts, just very well rounded, and (they are) a great group of kids … they’re college and career ready.”
Jack Copps, superintendent of Helena Public Schools, emphasized that the students' success wouldn’t have been possible without a strong support system.
Zanto took the podium, giving out Full Boar awards to students who maintained a GPA of 3.5 or higher while taking no fewer than eight credits of advanced placement and honors courses. Valedictorians were recognized, followed by five student addresses. The student addresses emphasized a flurry of emotions: from reminiscing on teachers' quirks to the uneasiness of starting a future that isn’t already planned.
Though each speaker brought a unique perspective on graduation to her address, the constant theme of all the speeches was their gratitude for support of those who guided them through the twists and turns of adolescence.
Tom McMahon, Helena native, Carroll College graduate, former teacher at Capital and now the special teams coordinator with the Denver Broncos, delivered the keynote address and colorfully highlighted major lessons that he’s learned over the years.
First, he said, dwelling over the past is not productive: “The word 'dwell' contains the word 'well' in it for a reason. The longer we allow ourselves to dwell about something in life, the longer our thoughts will be stuck deep down in that well.”
Fix versus fault was the next lesson, with McMahon using a sports analogy: Life can be fixed in-season and judged postseason. Next, McMahon emphasized the word trust. Students need to trust themselves -- just as they have trusted their supporters who have encouraged them throughout their journey. With trust came McMahon’s next lesson, the importance of a student’s roots.
“Take this opportunity to extend a sign of appreciation for those that have been your roots these first 18 years,” he said. McMahon then painted a picture of a tree facing the storms of life. He urged graduates to not worry about their circumstances due to the fact that they have strong roots that will anchor them in the storm.
The root metaphor came with the announcement of an ace, from a deck of cards, and a paint brush had been placed underneath each of the graduates' chairs. McMahon explained that the ace represented the fact that students need to have enough confidence in themselves to take a chance, just as an ace is used in a game of twenty-one. He emphasized that students should pursue their dreams and place their bets.
“Find what you are passionate about and don’t run from it. Passions are natural truths that are the key to your identity,” he said.
Next McMahon said that the secret to life’s greatest lesson is to simply breathe -- in order to reach the next phase of life. His advice: “Simply take the 20, 200 or 2 million breaths it takes to overcome that situation.”
Lastly, McMahon talked about painting the picture of life: a life with dreams and goals.
“Paint your perfect day, knock down any brick wall you may come across by taking a deep breath, digging your roots deep into the ground and then double down with great trust in that ace known to all of us in this stadium.”