AUGUSTA — Hundreds of relatives and friends gathered on Friday night at the Augusta Civic Center to fete Erskine Academy’s graduates.

The 133 graduates entered to the traditional melody of “Pomp and Circumstance,” led in step by Kayla Goggin, of the class of 2016. A series of four honor speeches, an a key note address by 2001 Erskine graduate Daniel Emery, immediately followed the Pledge of Allegiance.

“We, as a class, have gone through some 18-odd years and made it to where we are now,” said Max Byron, who delivered the second honor essay. “Don’t think for a second that you are marked for failure, but I believe quite the opposite.”

Byron said the graduates were more than potential but already had a track record of success, including volunteering more than 10,000 hours and building three houses. Byron also listed the group’s academic and co-curricular success.

“Beyond all of these big flashy titles of success, however, everyone here has done something amazing,” Byron said. “Facing adversity is what makes many of us stars.”

Justin Davis, who offered the first honor essay, invited his fellow graduates to remember the past to appreciate what has happened and to help guide them in the future. Davis recalled his trip to Italy and his time with the swim and debate teams, none of which he had imagined doing before entering Erskine.


“Forgetting our past is a dangerous thing,” Davis said. “The mistakes we make, and the successes we earn, all add up to define who we are.”

Davis said Erskine has prepared the graduates not only for their future education, service or employment, but also to be adults.

“We all have that one teacher that we can trust with our lives,” Davis said. “The one we turn to when we need support or direction. The one we will come back and visit whenever we get the chance.”

Salutatorian Kaitlyn Sutter recalled a story about a forest fire and a hummingbird’s attempt to snuff out the flames by carrying drops of water from a pond. Bigger animals discouraged the hummingbird, noting how little difference the drops were making against the raging flames. The hummingbird, however, replied that it was doing the best it could.

She connected the story to a trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, where she helped build a home for a family. Sutter lamented about the other poor families for whom the group could not build a house, but she was satisfied knowing she had at least helped one family.

“Sometimes we all have to face a difficult obstacle or overwhelming change, much like the forest fire,” Sutter said. “It is easy for someone to sit back and watch it happen, whether for the good or bad; but those that do the best that they can, no matter how small the impact, will feel fulfilled and satisfied.”


Valedictorian Madison Michaud challenged the graduates to make a difference in the world around them.

“If you can take a second and really observe your influence on the people around you, you’ll learn just how powerful you are,” Michaud said. “Your words are probably one of the most powerful devices in your supply. Even one sentence could make or break a person’s day or week.”

Michaud said the graduates, in a few years, would be the ones making the decisions that affect the whole world.

“Don’t look at graduation like it’s the end of an era,” Michaud said. “You’re prepared.”

Emery, whose list of accomplishments include riding a scooter across the country to raise hunger awareness, recalled the time a searing headache and tests led to a fear of a brain aneurysm.

“I will never forget that moment. It was just fear,” he said. “That moment I thought I could die was the beginning of a new mind-set.”


Emery expounded on that new mind-set in a top-10 list of advice that centered on living life the fullest. Life is short, Emery said, and time is the most valuable resource.

“It will go by faster the older you get, so spend it wisely,” he said.

He encouraged the graduates to pursue their dreams, never to underestimate themselves and to move forward even if things are perfect.

“The worst advice I ever got was don’t do anything stupid,” Emery said. “The goal is not to do the stupid things more than once.”

Emery encouraged the graduates to explore and to always leave their space better than they found it.

“Always, always, replace the toilet paper roll when it’s finished,” Emery said to loud laughter and applause. “None of this, ‘There’s one square left.’ You know what you’re doing. Stop it. You’re setting someone else up for failure, and it’s not right.”


Davis urged the graduates to take all of the experiencing and learning into the future. Success, he said, ultimately will not be determined by wealth or position.

“Those are all temporary and will pass away in time,” Davis said. “But storing for yourselves eternal treasures and doing good are what’s really important. Not all of us can discover a cure for cancer or stop cultural tensions across the world, but we can still do something. We can love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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