By Jennifer Bailey Stocks
Whiteville High School
Good morning to all the wonderful family members, supportive friends, and hard-working faculty who have helped guide us into the seats we are in today. And last but not least, good morning to the Class of 2018.
As I welcome you all today, I realize that I am greeting far more than just a class of students. I am addressing some of the best people who have ever walked through Whiteville High. As I look out into my class, I see people that have already graduated from college before even graduating from high school, people who hold jobs to support themselves, people who can dance like they are from Broadway, people with artistic skills close to Picasso, people who play music comparable to Beethoven, people who are state champions…the list goes on. And without finishing this list, anyone can tell we all are pretty amazing.
They can see, and I can see, such bright futures ahead of each one of you, as long as you don’t ever forget your goals when times get tough. Class, notice I said WHEN not IF. My word choice is to remind you of the inevitable. You will face hardships, setbacks, and sorrow, but you must work through them, you must grow through them, and you must thrive through them. All the while, you must not complain, groan, or grumble, because it is promised that God works everything perfectly in His time.
I used to find myself complaining all the time of growing up in such a small town with what I considered little opportunities. Yet, my outlook changed on my 17th birthday when my Aunt Carrie gave me a simple bracelet that read, “Bloom where you are planted.”
I’ve pondered this statement so much since, and it has helped me in so many situations. When I have wanted to pout about not receiving certain things I thought I deserved, and I wanted to blame it on my location or circumstance, I would have to glance down and just remember, “Bloom where you are planted, Jennifer.”
Graduates, please remember this little saying. Do not get discouraged about the situations you find yourself in, whether it be in college, jobs, relationships, or something far down the road. Have peace in knowing that God’s got you, and that you must become a beautiful flower right where you are in that moment.
And don’t just stop there… Spread your seeds. Let your seeds find their way into other gardens that need you most. These gardens, my friends, are lives. Lives of people you must be a part of, so that you can brighten their day, save them from bad circumstances, or simply just be a friend to laugh with and a shoulder to cry on. Be that beautiful plant who people admire, not for your beauty but for your fruitfulness. By this, I mean embrace the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
I know it may sound strange that I am telling you to be plants, but please look past the analogy. I am telling you to be like a plant who grows despite your conditions, without bickering, and with much positive effect on others. If you employ the fruits listed above, you will always find the drive to keep on going, and you will flourish because God takes care of his children. And still, if you ever find yourself in doubt, just ask yourself this, “…The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). Obviously, the answer is nothing or no one.
To shed a new light on the idea, a famous person once said, “We wouldn’t ask why a rose that grew from the concrete for having damaged petals, in turn, we would all celebrate its tenacity, we would all love its will to reach the sun, well, we are the roses, this is the concrete and these are my damaged petals, don’t ask me why, thank God, and ask me how.” (The Rose That Grew from Concrete)
Pretty good, huh? You wouldn’t believe who wrote it… Anyway, they did amazingly. They perfectly explained that this rose followed all the rules; it was planted in soil and waited patiently for its growing season. Yet, some great people decided to pour concrete over it. A huge obstacle was created, but the rose did not complain. It embraced its situation. And despite all odds, it grew through it, scars and all. This rose sounds like a pretty good role model to me…Everyone, be people with great patience, remarkable tenacity, and a strong will to live and thrive.
So today, as we close out 13 years of our education, take it all in. Enjoy your moment because you have earned it. Reflect on your times of learning, making friends, and creating memories. Be thankful for every experience, good or bad, that has shaped you into the beautiful person you are today. Appreciate all the extra hours your teachers made you spend on homework, all the extra miles your coach made you run, and all the extra times you had to practice your performances.
Do you realize, if you didn’t have these ‘one more times’ so often, that you wouldn’t be as successful today. They are what helped win admission into college, win scholarships, awards, championships, and they created YOU. So after you flip your tassel today, I charge you to say “thank you” to someone who you may have not normally given credit to.
Actually, our thankfulness can start right now in these seats. Even if you barely know the person beside you, tell them ‘Thank you.’ Because even the path they chose to walk down the hallway influenced yours to go in a certain angle. In the big scheme of things, we all influence each other so much more than we believe.
Thank you, God, for every graduate here today, and every blessing you have given each one of us.
Personally, I would like to thank my parents for every single thing they have sacrificed for me. Despite boredom I know they had, they have sat through hours upon hours of soccer games, dance competitions and recitals, watching me cheer, and so much more. My mom even offered to stay awake with me on multiple occasions during late night homework.
Thank you to my little sister, Ashleigh, for being my best friend and encouraging me through it all. Thank you to my Pa, who gave me his love of learning and for all the interesting conversations. Thank you to Piney Forest Baptist Church and Mr. Conner in FCS, for helping me grow as a Christian.
Thank you to Mrs. Faulk for developing my love of science and fitness. Thank you to Coach Todd for all the wonderful jokes about my soccer skills and never losing hope in me. Thank you to the soccer team for all the miles and laughs shared together.
Thank you to Mrs. Little and Mrs. Tracey for encouraging me to have a louder voice and for creating a wonderful cheer squad. Thank you to my cheer squad for literally ‘having my back,’ and for helping us become state champs.
Thank you to Mrs. Britt for all the help in everything and for dealing with my procrastination, especially this year. Thank you to Mrs. Horne for endless recommendations and for being a great leader in so much.
Thank you to Mrs. Deans for bearing with me in NHS and helping me become a better leader. Thank you to Ms. Kelly for making me write so many essays and for all you do with student council. And Mr. Tan, thank you so much for such a great math experience, for helping me get through AP calculus, and for being one of the best people in this world. I am so sad that you are retiring from Whiteville because no more students will get to enjoy your presence, but you most definitely had a huge impact on so many lives these last 18 years.
My list of thanks is endless, but last but not least, thank you Aunt Carrie for giving me this bracelet and inspiring this speech.
Class of 2018, please remember what this bracelet says, “Bloom where you are planted.”
Congratulations and best of luck to you all.
I leave you with this, ‘Will you grow or will you groan?’
Stocks will attend UNC-Chapel Hill in its Honors College this fall. She is the daughter of Christy and Jeffery Stocks.