One of Windham High School’s top students used to aspire to be a monkey.

Second honor essayist Quinn McPhail told 260 graduating students, their teachers and parents at the high school’s graduation ceremony Sunday, June 12, that his 4-year-old self’s aspiration was his solution to the problem of what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Although McPhail admitted his goal of becoming a primate were “ridiculous,” he expressed admiration for his childhood self that was “unconcerned with the size of this room, fearless about the opinions of others, and completely unfazed by something as ridiculous as aspiring to be a primate.”

“The mindset of the youngest of people is one that possesses a sense of bold creativity and confidence that many of us in this room may have lost touch with on the path to adulthood,” McPhail said.

So, he told his fellow graduates at ceremonies at Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena,  “do not lose track of what makes you yourself: your creativity, your originality.”

Salutatorian Sierra Yost dropped the monkey business but kept the child-like philosophy with her rhyming speech in the style of Dr. Seuss.

In some of her final stanzas, Yost told the class: “We’ve finally made it, to this place where you sit. And though it was hard, we never did quit. The future is now, there is so much to see. So go ahead, shout, wahoo or yippee.”

Keeping with the playful spirit, English teacher Tom Noonan told students to “never lose your sense of humor and your ability to play like a child.”

“Playing isn’t a waste of time. Playing isn’t childish. It keeps our hearts light and makes us feel better,” he said.

Play was one of Noonan’s tips for leading a happy life. He also urged students to avoid placing their quest for happiness on a higher income or greater social status.

“Avoid what psychologists call the ‘hedonic treadmill,’” he told graduates. “No matter what we have, we adapt and want more.”

Valedictorian Erin Merchant said she would avoid giving life advice “because mine has merely just begun.” Instead, she took a trip down memory lane.

Calling on childhood memories, Merchant said, “We have grown up together, experienced changes in society and changes amongst ourselves.”

But Merchant did give a couple pieces of advice, of one which was to appreciate the people “who have changed our diapers, dressed us in hideous clothing, and given us endless support throughout our lives thus far.”

A second piece of advice was to “discover what you’re passionate about, love what you do, and be genuinely happy,” she said.

Quoting from J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” she told graduates, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

With a mindset of happiness and play, after receiving their diplomas Windham graduates shot brightly colored confetti – along with their maroon and white caps – into the air.

Valedictorian Erin Merchant receives her diploma from Principal Chris Howell. “Discover what you’re passionate about, love what you do, and be genuinely happy,” Merchant told her fellow graduates in her address.

Second Honor Essayist Quinn McPhail addresses his classmates at Sunday’s graduation ceremony. “Do not lose track of what makes you yourself,” he said.

Class Marshal Samantha Barry leads her fellow Windham High School graduates into the commencement ceremony in Portland Sunday, June 12.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.