Morse High School valedictorian Natalie Emmerson. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

Morse High School valedictorian Natalie Emmerson this year was selected for the prestigious U.S. Senate Youth Program, becoming the first Morse student to be chosen since 1977.

“The program was life-changing,” Emmerson told her 147 classmates during the Morse graduation ceremony Sunday afternoon at McMann Field. She spent a week in Washington, D.C., and met dignitaries like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

“I found my place,” she said. “I found my people. I will never forget eating dinner in the rotunda of the National Archives with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.”

Emmerson, who will attend Bowdoin College, said the experience solidified her plan to work on Capitol Hill in public service one day.

But she said she may have never passed her interview for the program if she had not listened to the advice of a teacher who told her to switch her mentality from winning to learning.

“For perhaps the first time ever, I approached an interview without thinking about the end result,” she said. “Instead, I leaned into the fact that I had 20 minutes to speak, uninterrupted, about the topic I love more than anything in the world.


“In switching my mentality from winning to learning, I allowed my light to shine through. … I became a much happier and more genuine version of myself, which benefitted both me and the people around me.”

She urged her classmates to do the same.

“As we go forward today, I would encourage everyone here to pay more attention to the things they light up for,” she said. “Listen to the things that make you glow, the people, the places, the passions. What ideas are you speaking about when people listen differently? Which people cause you to light up when you speak about them? Not only will you be happier, but you are much more likely to be successful at something you enjoy.”

The graduates on Sunday also honored English teacher Ashley Begin-Smith, who won the Dr. Patricia Ames Distinguished Teacher Award.

“I am truly honored to be celebrating with you today,” she said. “I sincerely thank you for your belief in me as an educator.

“I know I would not be standing before you today were it not for my enduring efforts to understand believe in myself.”


She told the graduates to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

“(It’s) a lifelong process involving challenging moments of uncertainty, doubt, second-guessing and sometimes grief. But self-discovery may be the most essential and rewarding journey of your life,” she said.

She also told graduates to value community.

“Strike the balance between ‘me’ and ‘we,’ ” she said. “Create community in order to find your purpose. Seek out your people, ask for help, allow yourself to receive and, in return, give back.

“As you discover your purpose, remember that you are perfectly unique. There will never be anyone else quite like you in all of time, in all the universe. Believe this truth. Care for your needs and you will always know where you are needed. Be a light onto yourself and you will be a light onto the world.”

Morse High School graduates on Sunday, June 11. Photos by Jason Claffey / The Times Record

Comments are not available on this story.