AUGUSTA —Tara Jorgensen loves to read, and the Cony High School valedictorian told her classmates that life is a like a big book. High school was just the prologue.

In a book, Jorgensen said, the prologue often gives readers a glimpse of what’s to come later, and she said that is what high school is all about.

“The high school prologue is a teaser,” she said. “It showed us a possibility of what the real world could be but does not promise what it will be.”

Jorgensen, 18, was one of 144 graduating seniors at the commencement ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Augusta Civic Center. She’ll attend South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, in its pharmacy program.

Another graduate was Sean Tenney, the salutatorian, who thanked everybody from infants, toddlers, children and tweens to teens, young adults, adults, older adults, and even older adults.

“It is your compassion, empathy, patience, tolerance, curiosity, worry and myriad other qualities (that) were and are essential to the presence of us 11.75 dozen graduates here,” Tenney said. “See, kids, geometry.”

Principal Kimberly Silsby said this year’s senior class contributed greatly to the school’s culture and climate. She said the students are compassionate, conscientious and have enriched the hallways of Cony High for the last four years.

This has been a challenging year for students in America because of two school shootings — in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas — that left more than 20 teenagers dead and thrust the idea of teenage activism into the spotlight.

While none of the students spoke about the issue of gun violence, Silsby said the seniors recognize the kind of impact they can have at the local and national levels.

“They are great role models and helped to contribute to a safe community among our students and celebrate the diversity among them,” Silsby said. “Our students have always thought they could make a difference.”

This group of seniors, Silsby said, helped institute changes on campus including helping change some student guidelines related to privileges, the development of a senior lounge and the creation of a winter carnival. She said the students have been acting locally and help to make the school a better place.

“They’re continuing to act the way they always have at Cony,” Silsby said.

In his remarks, Tenney, 18, talked about how students use group chats, texts, tweets to cope with the stresses of high school and spend days playing Mario Kart, Fortnite and HALO. He said socializing isn’t natural for him and making eye contact isn’t easy, but he did a fine job speaking to a crowd of more than 500.

He told the audience, especially those younger than him, that it gets better and the awkwardness eased as he matured.

“My presence here attests to that, as never would I have projected myself as a graduate four years ago, one year ago, or even just a few weeks back,” Tenney said during a speech he practiced in front of chickadees and squirrels.

Tenney spoke about how using kind gestures became his great equalizer and the thing that allowed him to begin connecting with people. Holding open the door, nodding and smiling and asking someone how they’re doing helped him appreciate people and their perspectives. It changed his outlook.

“All of you deserve recognition for your vibrancy and your resilience,” he said while pointing around the audience like Oprah Winfrey used to on her talk show. “While we may never again exist together, we are here now, and today doesn’t really end today.”

Jason Pafundi

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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