"Stay in the race."
That's the message Brook McBride, pastor of Vermillion United Methodist Church had for the Vermillion High School graduating class of 2011.
The graduation ceremony took place Sunday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
In his remarks for the seniors, McBride remembered that as a ninth-grader in Wagner, he was "on top of the world" as class president and one of the first five players on the school's basketball team.
Then, the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, his parents told him the family was moving to Rapid City.
"I was such a big fish in a little pond in Wagner, and then to go to Rapid City Central where there were 700 in my class just overwhelmed me," McBride remembered.
Although he tried out for it, he did not make the basketball team, opting instead for track.
"I thought I was going to be fast, so I went out with the sprinters," he said. "The sprint coach came up to me after that first practice and said, 'You better try distance.'"
After a week, the distance coach suggested McBride try "long distance."
"I remember the first race I was running. I'd never run a race before," McBride said. "I was so pumped up, I wanted to please everybody. I took off and I was in the lead for the first two laps."
After the third lap, the other runners began to pass him.
"About the sixth lap I heard some footsteps behind me," McBride said. "I thought, 'I'm beating somebody,' but all of a sudden I realized I wasn't beating anybody. I was being lapped."
Dejected, he moved over to the eighth lane, ready to give up.
Then he heard the voice of his father – late to the race – encouraging him to finish.
"There are going to be some times when you want to move over to that eighth lane," McBride said. "Don't. Move back and finish the race, and know who the voice is that you're going to listen to when you're down in the dumps. When you're over in the eighth lane you need to know who's there for you, who's your voice. Cultivate it today. Give them thanks today. Turn to those around you who are cheering you on and tell them, 'I'm going to need you. Thank you for being there.'"
McBride said it's also important to be there for others. He said that when he was 12, his sister died in a car accident, and it was hard for him to grieve.
Then, one night, he awoke to find his three best friends in his room. They got him out of bed, brought him outside and took him to Wagner's main street.
That's when they informed him they were going streaking.
"You've got to know, in Wagner at two in the morning, nobody's up," he said. "But you know, halfway down that street I started laughing, too. I started feeling like I was human
"There are a lot of trophies you can go for – a great career, all the money you want in the world," he said. "You can go for all of that, but there's one thing in life I'm going to tell you to be today. Learn to be a good friend. Learn to be somebody who can be there for somebody else."
Several of the graduating seniors spoke, as well, offering their reflections on the past and the future.
"We will all move on after high school and be successful at something," said class secretary Sarah Szymonski. "Some of us will become teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, air traffic controllers, anthropologists or pharmacists. We set our goals high and we're not afraid to take a chance. Even if we fall, we know we will be able to pick ourselves back up and find something else to be successful in.
"No matter where we go, we will always remember where we came from. High school is all about making friends and memories, but it's time to move on. The diplomas we will soon receive are tickets to new lives. Moving on and leaving your friends behind are inevitable, but this is a time to rejoice and be glad for the time we shared together," she said.
"For as long as I can remember, you as a class have been in my life," added class president Doug Kronaizl. "I assume I haven't gone a day since kindergarten without talking to one of you or seeing you around town. As long as I can vividly remember, you've all been here. But after today, after this ceremony, after we turn these (tassels), we won't be together the same way that we have our entire lives, which can be really hard to handle. But after today, we still have all the friends we've made, all the memories that bind us together, everything that has happened to us.
"For all those memories I thank you," he said.