To the Class of 2018:

Graduation season seems to inspire in the adults in your world the need to offer you unsolicited advice about the future.

Politicians, entertainers, sports stars, and even newspaper people – I have, on several occasions, shared things that at the time, felt inspired and wise – seem full of suggestions about how you should see life as a high school graduate.

Today, however, I’d like to share a different perspective – yours.

As someone who has watched you closely, often through a camera lens, for the past few years, I have seen some very awesome and amazingly inspiring things that deserve to be shared with your parents and community as you celebrate this milestone.

A while ago, one of your creative writing class seniors said in the school paper that prom is not just about all of the activities that take place on that Saturday, but about enjoying those things with your friends.

I’ve seen lots of those times in my years of taking your photo. Here’s just one of them:

But friendship was just one of the lessons you exemplified during your high school years.

You also gave us some inspiring examples about community, and citizenship.

You began your senior year in an era when some of our country’s most famous athletes seemed confused about how to react to our National Anthem.

While that silly conversation was going on, you showed us this:

And your Homecoming King did this:

Your senior year also started at the same time our country was having another one of its ridiculous, out-dated, moments of racial tension. While many in our country were yelling at each other over the color of skin, we looked at you and saw:

Thae above photo was not just a lesson on race, but also on facing difficulty with the help of your friends. Both of the guys pictured were on the bench because of injuries. Lots of your athletes spent part of high school with some kind of injury. I once watched one of you catch a pass and recover a fumble while wearing a cast on one wrist.

But your difficult days in high school went way beyond things that photos can express.

You, the Class of 2018, showed us some amazing strength through some unimaginably trying times.

You were still adjusting to high school life when your football coach’s brother suddenly died. A month later, you mourned the loss of your wrestling coach. A few months later, you lost a classmate — someone who would be walking down the aisle with you on Sunday. A few weeks after that, you were part of the community who lost five more young souls.

How those tragedies changed each of you, individually, only you can say. But the way you responded collectively, at memorial services and in carrying on after those awful losses, helped us, the adults, to manage our own angst. As we would do publicly while watching you at the events pictured above, we also saw you privately processing all of this pain, and we learned.

I won’t even begin to try to answer the “why” of all of this loss, but I can tell you that the darkest days of your high school years have made you tougher and gentler, more able to have faith, more intolerant of trivial debates, more ready for what comes after Sunday. You’ve shown it in the classroom, on the stage, and in athletic arenas – and most importantly, in your homes, churches and community.

As you finished your freshman year, I discovered the lyrics to the familiar tune that you will hear as you walk out of the gym on Sunday. “Pomp and Circumstance,” in its original tune called “Land of Hope and Glory,” ends by repeating a powerful prayer:

God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet

God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet

Some lawyers and school administrators get a bit fidgety when they hear the words “graduation” and “prayer” in the same sentence, so I will say a bit more forcefully here what many will be thinking on Sunday:

You deserve a graduation message more personal than “Two roads diverged in the woods…” more relevant than “Be the very best version of yourself..” and more candid about your scars and the lessons you learned from the crises you survived during your high school years, than any of those overused graduation quotations someone is likely to repeat, somewhere, on Sunday.

You deserve a blessing, a prayer, a song – a direct appeal to God – that honors the strength you have shown and the courage it took you to make it to this place.

And unspoken, in the words not sung to that tune you know so well, is that message: May the strength you have gained through your struggles increase, with the help of God.

You, the Class of 2018, have become mighty, through your studies, through the typical challenges of high school classes, society and activities. And you became more mighty because of those dreadful days of loss.

I’ve seen many of you in person, over the years, and gotten to know you and your families, just a bit. You shared story ideas in the Fareway check-out line and discussed photos while serving me Papa Burgers. I’ve been thrilled to see many Vinton Today photos and stories appear on your social media pages.

I wish I’d have the opportunities to know more of you better. Yet, what I’ve seen from you gives me nothing but hope for the future – both your future, and your impact on the rest of us.

We’ve seen what “mighty” means by watching you. It will be incredible to see how you show us how you will define “mightier yet.”