I’ve checked the mail at home and the office, email, text messages and social media—and still no invitation to be the graduation ceremony speaker at my alma mater, Hammonton High School. After so many years, I don’t take it personally (anymore). I always write a speech, though. Just in case they do decide to invite me. Here is this year’s:
Board President Mento, Superintendent Chieco, administrators, teachers, parents and members of the Hammonton High School Class of 2021:
First of all let’s give thanks that we can meet here in person once again. We look forward to the day when events like this one look exactly as they did in 2019. And we mourn the losses we have all borne in the past year and a half as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
One area that was severely impacted by the pandemic was the workplace. Certainly, the schools were in the forefront of the sweeping changes. The Hammonton School District and Hammonton High School were not exempted from them. Everyone—the board, administration, teachers, parents and students— quickly discovered they would have to adapt to remote learning.
The staff and students adapted, the 2019-2020 school year went forward, as did the 2020-2021 school year. Now we’re here on graduation day, and while the tradition of having everyone together has continued, a virtual graduation was held last year, keeping the streak of HHS graduations unbroken.
Today marks the commencement ceremony of the 125th graduating class of Hammonton High School.
And may I say: Just as in previous school years, this moment did not come without a lot of hard work from a lot of people. I’m talking about the students, and their years of hard work; their parents and families, who supported and encouraged them; their teachers and administrators, whose own hard work pushed the students forward each day; and the board members, who helped lead the district during this unusual time.
Work helps give a person purpose in life.
Certainly, everyone wants to have the best personal life possible. Having a family, building, buying or renting a home and enjoying vacations and recreation are all important.
But ultimately, you have to find a way to fund that personal life, and that is where work comes into the picture.
Now, I’m sure the last thing you graduates want to hear about is work. Tomorrow is the first day of your summer vacation if you’re headed to college next year. Some of you have already been working during your high school years, though. Others are heading right into the workforce after high school.
No matter when your work life begins, or what you do, be passionate about what you’re doing. My father, the late Frank G. Donio, always said, “If you do what you love, it’s not work.”
My recollection is that it didn’t really matter what kind of work a person did in my father’s eyes. If they loved their job, it was no longer just a way to pay the bills. It was a passion. It brought dignity to a person along with money. It taught a person how to do things, how to deal with others in a workplace setting and how to strive for goals, and attain those goals, often as part of a team.
There have been many successful teams here at Hammonton High School, both on the athletic field and in the classroom. I know for a fact that the teams that were the most successful were the ones that worked the hardest. No one ever says “Hey, they really lucked their way to becoming valedictorian, or salutatorian, or the lead in the school play, or that championship.”
No. They say, “She put a lot of work in every day and made it to the top of the class. He worked every day, and that’s why he’s the best. They always worked hard in practice, and that’s why they earned the title and the trophy.”
Unlike a lot of other four-letter words, “work” should not be seen as something profane. If you start working early, as I was fortunate to do on a farm and in a produce warehouse, and you pay attention, you’ll learn a lot about the world and yourself. Sometimes I worry about where those lessons are going to be learned if we discourage younger people from working. You won’t learn them from a screen on a phone or a tablet, that’s for sure. Technology is a part of the workplace of today, but it’s not a substitute for it, as everyone here learned from their remote classes over the internet.
So, my parting words to the HHS Class of 2021 are simple: Get a job. And if you can’t automatically find the job you love, try to find something to love about the job you do have.
And always remember: Earning a living isn’t just about the money. It’s about dignity and pride. Congratulations to the Class of 2021. I know you’re going to make us proud.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.