Jefferson City High School's 2013 class valedictorian, Hughes Lee, urged his fellow classmates at Sunday's graduation to "dream big, but think small."
Lee graduated at the top of his class of 595, earning a 4.154 GPA. He plans to major in engineering at Dartmouth College.
"We survived the apocalypse, the rapture, the end of the Mayan calendar and Simonsen's hallways," he cracked in his opening remarks.
When preparing his speech, he said he thought about "Think Little," an essay he read a couple years ago by American pundit/writer/farmer Wendell Berry.
Goals such as world peace, Lee said, are lofty, but they sometimes distract us. "Sometimes we get so caught up in these lofty goals, that we only shoot for lofty solutions and forget the small choices that we make," he said.
Lee said the article cited the civil rights movement as an example. The Civil Rights Act was passed, which had a great effect, but racism still exists, he said. "By thinking too big, we forget that we can also think little - we can make little changes to solve the problem."
He asked how many people in the audience have the ability to eliminate diseases such as AIDS and malaria. "No one," he said. "However, as humanity as a whole, we have eliminated the disease of smallpox, one of the most deadly diseases seen ... ."
Everyone working together, including people taking the vaccinations, made the difference, he said.
He said many people talk about making big contributions to charity if they were to win the lottery. "But if every single person in the developed countries paid just $1 a month, that would be $12 billion dollars per year to help solve poverty and hunger."
He urged his classmates to dream big and to pursue their dreams and ambitions. "But at the same time, think little. Don't forget that whatever you do can still be significant. No matter what little thing you give, it still adds up."
Thousands of people filled Adkins Stadium to the uppermost row to watch diplomas conferred to the sea of red caps and gowns seated on both sides of the 50-yard line.
Class President Dennis Akrobetu told his class that their long wait has finally come to an end.
He congratulated the class, telling them they've achieved "a momentous accomplishment that, unfortunately, not everyone has a chance to experience. Cherish this moment."
Principal Paul Dodson offered his own advice: "As you move onto the next phase of your life, it's important that you help somebody every chance you get, that you find God's grace in every mistake, and always give more than you take."
Dodson said 100 of the graduates attended the Jefferson City Academic Center, the district's alternative school for at-risk students. Of the graduates, he said, 123 are National Honor Society members; seven are Hispanic Honor Society members; 16 are in the National French Honor Society; 12 in the National Music Honor Society; and 13 in the National Journalistic Honor Society.
The JCHS valedictorian and salutatorians earned a combined 553 college credit hours upon graduation.