By Ed Runyan
The new high school is surrounded by wide-open spaces, split-rail fences, horses and cows.
Yet even at rural South Range High School, the graduates of 2012 have a love affair with their phones and technology, the Rev. Melinda Q. Lacefield of Mount Olivet Church said Saturday at commencement ceremonies.
The Rev. Mrs. Lacefield said the ability of this generation to divide their attention among various tasks at the same time — many of them involving phones, computers and other devices — “is important, but it doesn’t leave the time we need to enjoy one another.”
Mrs. Lacefield, whose youngest child was one of the 95 South Range graduates to receive his diploma Saturday, said she’s not sure 18-year-olds realize how much technology affects the way they relate to one another.
Cellphones, smartphones, and Bluetooth technology are relatively new to her generation, she said, but “they’re not new to you,” she said.
So she urged the class to “think about taking time, about slowing down and enjoying life to the fullest, opening yourselves up to love and being loved in return, playing sports, being part of the team, the band or the choir, knowing you’re loved by God, by your family and your friends.”
Mrs. Lacefield repeated what the experts have told this generation about the “soft” skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
“Look people in the eye and be fully present,” she said. “I’m not saying multi-tasking is bad because it’s not. I’m saying part of life is just being. It’s so important to your family and your friendships, the things that make life memorable, livable. It takes gentleness, it takes noticing those tender, small details.”
Superintendent Dennis Dunham also offered some advice on relating successfully with others.
“Try putting your phones down and looking in people’s faces,” he said. “The answer is in people’s faces.”
After the ceremony, Lisa Blythe, mother of graduate Elizabeth Blythe, said she appreciated the message because Elizabeth studied interactive multimedia at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center and plans to study 2-D graphic design in college.
“That’s what she’s going into — technology — but they do need to step back. That’s all the kids do is text, text, text,” Lisa said, “and we live on a farm.”
Graduate Hayley Maynard said one of the things she thinks makes South Range special is that the students are “very welcoming,” something one of the class’s 11 valedictorians, Breanna Gwirtz, mentioned in her speech.
“I’m lucky to have grown up in South Range, where I truly felt welcomed,” Gwirtz said of her arrival in the district in the fourth grade.
Something that made South Range’s commencement ceremonies special was the way school officials awarded diplomas.
It was clear after the first name was called that they were not being awarded alphabetically. It appeared that there was no pattern, but Superintendent Dennis J. Dunham explained afterward that the names were called according to height — with the smallest students called first.
That improved every student’s ability to see the stage from his or her seat and prevented the student whose last name starts with Z from being last, Dunham said.
Because there were 11 valedictorians and one salutatorian, the school assigned each one to give a short talk on one of his or her 12 grades in school. The district frequently assigns the valedictorians and salutatorian to speak on a theme, though most years there are fewer than 12, Dunham said.