BILOXI -- Five-year-old Jackson Wolverton, presumptive Gulfport High School class of 2029, presented medallions to 2016 valedictorian Chad Gutierrez and salutatorian Julia Grant during Gulfport High's commencement program Wednesday at the Coast Coliseum. In Gulfport tradition, a student from the valedictorian's elementary school has the honor of recognizing the top two graduates. Jackson is a kindergartner at Bayou View Elementary.
Gutierrez said the keys to success are having passion in what people do, establishing a solid work ethic, helping neighbors and always staying inquisitive.
"When we stop asking questions, we stop making a difference," he said. "If it were not for questions, we as a society would never progress. We need to hone into our inner child sometimes and ask questions about why things are the way they are. Questions, creations and understanding are fundamental things that are important to our lives.
"So don't be afraid to ask questions."
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Grant, also the senior class president, used a Weeble to make her points about persevering in life. She said the egg-shaped toy works with a strong center of gravity that makes it pop back upright after it gets down.
"They never stay down -- they may end up perfectly sideways, but they're always going to pull themselves right back up. So in this world of letdowns and mistakes, be a Weeble, find something that you have to believe in or absolutely love.
"It's time to get scrappy. The only key to success is failure; embrace it. The only thing permanent is change; celebrate it. The only thing that's worthwhile is passion; chase it."
Gutierrez and Grant will begin their college careers at the University of Mississippi in the fall. Gutierrez plans to major in chemical engineering and minor in biology and business. Grant will major in both public policy and broadcast journalism.
Both also paid homage to two Gulfport teachers, Kandy Elmore and Sherry Pierce, who died recently.