By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

SALEM — When David Holcomb told his high school friends he wanted to be a teacher, they laughed.

Standing on stage, 11 years later, as McNary High School’s keynote speaker for the 2017 commencement, the joke was on them.

Holcomb, an AP geography teacher at McNary, told the 2017 graduating class on Friday, June 9 not to listen to critics.

“My friends knew who I was up until that point,” Holcomb said. “They knew that I failed every class my freshman year. They knew as a sophomore I wasn’t doing much better. I couldn’t play sports because my grades weren’t good enough. In their eyes I was never going to become a teacher.”

Holcomb also grew up in a broken home with parents that were in and out of jail.

“I was depressed. I was embarrassed and honestly I wanted to give up but deep down I had a dream,” Holcomb said. “I had a dream that one day the pain of my youth and the lessons that I had learned outside of the classroom would help reach students in a way unimaginable. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a world changer. I wanted to be a mentor that spoke truth and life into the minds of students. I made a choice to follow my dreams. I made a choice to ignore the opinions of the doubters, these so-called friends.”

Holcomb also challenged the graduates to fail forward, pointing to examples of Michael Jordan, Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey and Judy Hopps from Zootopia as well as his own.

“I’ve failed a lot,” Holcomb said. “You can ask my wife. But despite my failures, despite my fears, I’ve chosen everyday to fail forward. I followed my dreams and now I’m living my dreams.”

Holcomb told students to follow their dreams and not settle for mediocrity.

“You are special,” he said. “You’re capable of achieving the dreams that you hold in the depths of your heart but you have to make a choice. To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. So what are you willing to do everyday to make your dreams a reality? What risks are you willing to take? What haters and doubters are you willing to prove wrong?

“When you walk out this door tonight, I want you to remember this, I love you guys, I’m extremely proud of every single one of you. You are special and I’m going to miss you all. Congratulations. Now, go live your dreams.”

Before they went their separate ways, McNary senior Taylor Long, the student speaker, urged her fellow students to take a moment to look around and remember all the moments they’ve shared together, both good and bad.

“These memories will be all that we have left of each other, some of us forever so let’s end on a good note of unity and family,” Long said. “This is the last chance we may ever get so I thank you for making these years so memorable and amazing that it’s so hard to say goodbye. Thank you McNary. Thank you staff. Thank you to each of my peers and my friends. Thank you for giving us good memories to look back on and smile. I wish you a life of good experiences to follow up as good of an experience as this one has been.”