Late coach's spirit inspires graduates

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ARLINGTON — With memories of the advice and encouragement of the school's late soccer coach, John A. Werner, held up as guidance, the 26 members of the class of 2018 graduated from Arlington Memorial High School on Saturday.

The ceremony was held beneath a white tent on Werner Field at the Arlington Recreation Park, where the graduates were joined by family and loved ones. Gym renovations had forced the graduation to be moved.

Jamie Keel, the class valedictorian, shared with her classmates with some words of wisdom from Werner, who died earlier this spring after a long battle with cancer. "For me, this piece of advice is LINAO, losing is not an option," Keel said. "I first heard Mr. Werner offer this word of advice in his own speech at our 2016 graduation. His speech brought his slogan of LINAO into the town of Arlington, where it would resonate and inspire, guiding Mr. Werner and many others ever since."

LINAO was created by Werner and one of his former soccer players as a way to help stay strong mentally. The slogan also helped to raise money for the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center.

"Mr. Werner's words also guided many of us through this final year of high school. We all looked forward to having the best year of high school yet," Keel continued. She pointed out that the girls' varsity soccer team had its best season yet and was the state champion, with an 18-0 record, which hadn't been done in 25 years.

"We demonstrated that losing really wasn't an option, and we saw the power of Mr. Werner's words. Those words not only brought us success on the field, but success as we all attempted to finish our senior year strong. Applying to colleges or finding employment and finding many bouts of senioritis, those words did not ensure victory in all cases, but they served as our motivation in all cases."

Throughout other difficulties such as having to commute to other gyms for practices and not having any other home games, Keel said, Werner's words continued to help, even after his death during final games.

"To my fellow graduates, some of the best teammates, don't forget to thank your team today. Even though we are moving on from [Arlington Memorial High School] we will always keep our teams and Mr. Werner's inspiring words in our hearts," Keel said.

Katheryn Berger, the class salutatorian, reflected on what the community of Arlington had meant to her, and expressed a wish that each of her classmates would take a piece of the town with them, wherever they go. She said that the small town is a full of caring people who care about their achievements. The graduates are a product of their community, she said.

"Most of us started at Fisher Elementary [School] knowing that after fifth grade we attend our highly anticipated moving up ceremony and begin school up on the hill. Even if this wasn't the case, and your life now had different routes, all of our parents took care of everything for us," Berger said.

"You know what the worst part about all of this decision-making is? The adults. Adults love to tell us what to do, they all think that their words of wisdom are the wisest and that they have their own little pieces of advice that only they can give us," Berger continued. "But the one thing that has been absolutely, 100 percent true, that I've heard from just about every adult, is that high school is going to be over before I know it. And it is."

"When I was a freshman and adults would say that to me, I honestly thought that they were just grasping at their youth, but I now know that adolescence is so short that there's hardly enough there to grasp."

The keynote speaker for this year's graduation was Chris Howe, a former Navy SEAL who has worked with students at the school through his leadership programs for student athletes and student leaders.

Howe urged the graduates to take a look around at the people next to them and to continue to remember them and these experiences that they've had, and to strive not to disappoint them or themselves.

"You are going to fail," Howe said to the group of students. "You're going to fail often and sometimes massively. And that's okay. It's okay. Failure does not determine who you are.

"It's not a matter if, if you're going to fail, it's a matter of how you will respond when you fail. At the end of the day, you only control three things in your lives attitudes, our efforts, and our responses. That's it."

"Becoming a Navy SEAL taught me a number of valuable life lessons," Howe said. "It taught me the value of paying attention to detail, the need to do the little things right, and at the end of the day, there are only two ways to really do things — the right way and again."

"As I said previously, there is [not] one person solely defined by another individual or interaction, but instead, by accumulation of interactions and experiences. For me, being a Navy SEAL was only one of these experiences. Becoming a dad taught me the need for patience and reinforce the importance of prioritizing other peoples' needs before my own."

Howe urged students to push themselves outside of their comfort zones as it is what he believes to be the best way to truly grow.

"The biggest reason that we, as individuals, are resistant to get outside of our comfort zones is due to the fear of failure. We don't want to fail in general, but we especially don't want to in front of our friends, our family, or even strangers for that matter because of the perception that failing at something means that you are a failure.

"Going forward, here's what I urge you to do," Howe continued. "Do incredible things, push boundaries, make mistakes, make your own path, but don't wait.... Find your purpose and pursue it with all that you're worth. Strive for greatness, strive for incredible things, and believe, believe, believe."

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