KCHS teacher offers graduating seniors their new 'Bill of Rights'

Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2003

Asking the audience to stand on cue and do a fan-supportive wave, social studies teacher Roger Phillips set the stage for his commencement address Thursday night to 120 graduating Kenai Central High School seniors.

"I looked up the word 'commencement' in the dictionary and every definition included 'action,'" Phillips said.

He said the graduation ceremony should include action and asked the seniors, seated in the front rows, to stand, turn around and face their parents and friends in the audience. Then, he asked the audience to do the wave.

"This is an auspicious occasion," Phillips said.

"First, as you've just seen, there are over 1,000 people here. Second, this is the first time the wave has ever been done in this auditorium. And third, I'm wearing a tie."

The popular history teacher presented what he termed "A Graduate's Bill of Rights," telling the students they have a right to demonstrate their attitude, a right to be accountable for their own actions and a right to be true to their word.

Borrowing from President John F. Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech, Phillips told the graduates they also have a right to get a job.

He told the students they have "a right to the wealth of this nation."

"It is the brilliant, diligent, hardworking people in this country who deserve the wealth," he said.

And, keeping his message light, he jokingly described a brilliant invention he and KCHS principal Dennis Dunn came up with.

"Me and Mr. Dunn have created powdered water," he said.

"Now we just need to come up with what to mix it with."

One graduating senior, August "Augie" Lindow, said Phillips has been his favorite teacher during his years at KCHS.

The 17-year-old, who plans to start a plumbing and heating business with his father, Erik, studied American and world history with Phillips and said he especially liked the manner in which the material was presented.

"He really taught you the stuff. It wasn't an easy class at all," Lindow said.

Other rights Phillips told the graduates they have include the right to learn from their mistakes, the right to their own heritage, the right to challenge themselves and the right to be individuals.

"Some things are worth standing up for," he said.

Drawing a thunderous laugh from the students, Phillips ended his list of 10 rights saying they have "the right to wear a hat."

"When you first arrived here four years ago, hats were cool. They were the thing. Then somewhere in your junior year, it was determined that hats are the root of all evil," he said.

"If you are willing to practice these rights, you can make a difference," Phillips said.

"Don't underestimate the power of one.

"And don't believe that it's a small world out there. It's huge. Imagine trying to paint it."

The graduates responded with a standing ovation.

The 2 1/2-hour ceremony featured musical numbers by the high school band and choir, a slide show montage of the graduates including photos from their younger days as well as during their four years at KCHS and a skit put on by parents of some seniors portraying the rapidity of life from birth to high school graduation.

A comedy skit by Casey Crowder and Michael Tunseth, senior class speakers, poked light-hearted fun at some classmates, including asking the entire assembly to sing "Happy Birthday" to Nick Adamson, and offered thanks to the faculty, "even when you weren't getting paid to work past 2:45," referencing a contract-year protest by some Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers.

Before certifying that the seniors had completed the requirements to graduate, Principal Dunn thanked them especially "for the respect you've shown one another."

Asked for a reaction to his graduation, Lindow said, "It's overwhelming."

He said that after a post-graduation party Thursday night, he would probably go to work Friday, planning "to just take one day at a time."

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