Finding Passion, Purpose

JHS Graduates Told To Find Joy In Life During Commencement Ceremony

Seniors at Jamestown High School received their diplomas during a commencement ceremony Friday at Chautauqua Institution. Andrew Pumford, valedictorian, and Alicia Rensel, salutatorian, spoke to their classmates on the past, present and future. See more photos on P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

CHAUTAUQUA — The long and often familiar road came to an end for the Jamestown High School senior class in a somewhat unfamiliar place.

The graduating class took the stage of the Chautauqua Institution’s Amphitheater on Friday with their fellow classmates amid steady rain. But that never stopped the show or slowed the spirits of the soon-to-be graduates.

Jamestown’s valedictorian, Andrew Pumford, and salutatorian, Alicia Rensel, addressed the audience and reflected on their past four years at Jamestown High School. Pumford will be attending Vanderbilt University to study biochemistry with plans to become a surgeon. Rensel, meanwhile, will be attending Penn State Behrend to study nursing.

Pumford’s speech poked fun at his own unpreparedness at graduation and how in retrospect he should have taken the public speaking course while he was in school.”

Nonetheless, he had words of encouragement for his fellow classmates. “We must chase our passions and never settle for anything less than that,” he said.

Superintendent Bret Apthorpe speaks Friday at commencement.

Pumford spoke about finding love in one’s work regardless of what it may be. He encouraged future lawyers to be the best lawyers; teachers to teach with passion; and even future dog trainers to be the best at their craft.

While Pumford’s speech garnered many smiles and much laughter, his challenge to the other graduates to find happiness in their future work was sincere.

“Whatever you choose to pursue in your life, unique as it may be, do it with a rigor and passion, with everything you have so that someday, when you’re enjoying your retirement, you can look back and say, ‘I have no regrets,'” he said. “When we can find the courage to pursue the one area that we love, then we have found success.”

Rensel put before the seniors and those in attendance a simple yet profound sentiment.

“After today, we will be free to choose whatever career path we wish,” she said. “The amazing thing is that we have the power to take control of our lives and not let the circumstances around us define us.”

Students pictured at Chautauqua Institution.

She compared life as a whole to that of a train and every new day to a car on the very same locomotive. She optimistically pointed out that the track ahead “is empty and yet to be driven on, but waiting for greatness.”

Rensel remained optimistic, but warned the senior class that every day won’t be wonderful, and in fact, some will actually be messy.

“Our job is to not let a bad day, week, month or even a year define us. It is our responsibility to find a purpose, a beauty and a passion in life,” she said.

She revealed that her nephew is obsessed with trains and that each new toy he receives excites him more and more.

“His excitement is an example of how we should wake up every day: Excited to get a new train car, to have another day to shape our life into what we want it to be,” Rensel said.

P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

“So to you, my fellow graduates, I say, ‘Congratulations, and I hope see you at some station farther down the track. All aboard!'” she said as she blew into a train whistle.

The guest speaker, Terrance S. J. DeJesus, a senior threat research analyst at NTT Security and 2012 Jamestown High School graduate, challenged students to define the “why” in their lives. Whether the seniors look at life like a locomotive and are searching for a career they love, DeJesus emphasized that defining why they’re doing what they’re doing is important.

“Once you define your ‘Why,’ life will have purpose,” he said.

Whether or not the seniors will define their “whys,” or will find happiness in their work, one thing was for certain: They had graduated next to many familiar faces and enroute into the unfamiliar.