MADISON — Realizing your dreams isn’t just about knowing what you want in life; it’s also about being able to overcome your fears.

For Katie Burkhart-Gooch, fear decided to manifest itself in a collegiate championship softball game in 2008, when the former professional athlete struggled to throw her first pitch of the game.

“I stood on the mound and couldn’t throw a single pitch. I had come that far and then in the moment I couldn’t do a single thing,” said Burkhart-Gooch, the commencement speaker at Friday’s commencement exercises at Madison Area Memorial High School. Overcome by fear, Burkhart-Gooch started to cry, but then she started to talk herself through it.

She thew a pitch, and then another pitch. Her third pitch was her best all year — and it also taught her something about herself.

“In that time I realized that fear can be absolutely paralyzing,” Burkhart-Gooch said. “It can take our dreams and crush them in a matter of seconds, and I think all the time, ‘What if I didn’t step over that obstacle? What if I didn’t push through?'”

On Friday, Burkhart-Gooch, who now runs an educational and motivational organization for athletes called Pitch Responsibly, told the class of 2016 that fear is something she still struggles with, but she has learned to deal with it by relying on personal values.

“You know who you are and where you want to go,” she said. “Sometimes it may not be the most vivid image in the world, but you can still pursue it.”

Sixty-two students graduated Friday and for many of them, the future is uncertain, said class president and valedictorian Devin Mercier, who also told his classmates and the audience to set aside their fears and embrace change.

“Some of us are going to college, some of us are working and some don’t have a clue what we want to do, and that’s OK too,” said Mercier, who will attend Pomona College in California in the fall and who thanked parents, teachers, classmates and friends in a speech welcoming them to the event.

In other student remarks Friday night, Zachary Linkletter summed up the experience of the class of 2016 in one word — “entertaining” — before asking his classmates and the audience to reflect on whether they were ready to graduate and enter the world.

“Nobody is really ready (to handle all the challenges of adulthood), but we’re getting there,” Linkletter said. “This isn’t the end of the line. We have so much life left and we’re getting close to being ready every day.”

After the ceremony, the graduates received hugs from relatives, friends and each other and talked excitedly in the hallways of the school.

“I’m going to miss being in a routine and being comfortable with my surroundings,” said Blair Thebarge, who will be studying baking and pastry at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island in the fall. “It’s going to be a new experience trying to get out and meet people.”

Sophia Peters, who is working this summer at Al’s Pizza in Skowhegan, said she hopes to study early childhood education one day. “I’m going to miss seeing the same people every day, but I’m looking forward to more independence and freedom,” she said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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