CHESTERTOWN - Scott Remington, victim of a 1999 logging accident locally, rolled his wheelchair up behind the tall lectern at the North Warren High School graduation ceremonies June 26.
Some in the audience wondered why Remington, who's dealt with limited mobility since he suffered a serious spinal cord injury, wasn't handed a portable microphone.
But their question was answered definitively when Remington stood up from his wheelchair and delivered an inspirational speech to the graduates.
In the context of his experiences recovering from the debilitating accident, he offered advice.
Remain true to your friends, stay determined and driven, always have hope, and give back to your community, he advised.
Remington, a 1984 graduate of North Warren, said he had learned the importance of friendship and deep community bonds when he received handmade Get Well cards from local students.
Saturday, he returned several of the cards to the students, with a directive.
"As you face your own trials in life, these letters will remind you that you made a difference in someone else's life," he said, noting that receiving these cards in 1999 boosted his recovery. "You lifted the spirits of a broken man and showed him you cared."
He also said there was nothing more precious in life than such bonds with others.
"I am here today because of the support of my family, friends, and this small close-knit community," he said.
Remington's daughter Jenna is a member of graduating class.
He praised the graduates for their continuing expressions of concern and caring - whether it was volunteering for his annual fundraiser for charity, or merely opening a door for him, or sporting a genuine smile. Such traits provided evidence of their great character, he said.
"Whatever you did, you always made me feel welcome, accepted, wheelchair and all," he said.
Community support particularly touched his heart, he said, when he came home from the hospital and rehabilitation center - the streets of his hometown community were lined with blue ribbons expressing residents' concern.
"It was the most touching thing that I have ever experienced," he said, observing the community support has continued through $359,000 in donations to his fundraisers for spinal cord injury research.
Remington said drive and determination were vital in one's life - and it was what kept him alive after the accident and made his recovery possible. He added the graduates should pursue their passion by setting goals and working towards them relentlessly.
"With the right drive and determination, you can accomplish anything in life," he said. "I would not be alive today without it."
Remington spoke of how prior to the logging accident, he had defined himself by his work, and how his paralysis once threatened that major aspect of his life.
But through the support of family and friends, and by observing others facing intense physical challenges with a joyful spirit, he's developed a sense of hope and reoriented his life.
"Always have hope," he said. "Hope will keep you going when all else fails."
Remington urged them to go out into the world and enjoy life.
"It's friendship, determination, drive, hope, and my community that have given me back my life," he said. "And I know these five things will take you far."
Remington's speech was greeted by resounding, lengthy applause.
The speeches of valedictorian Jeff Bennett and salutatorian Laura Fahey also dealt with elements of success. The two students peppered their presentations with humor.
Bennett jested about current events, emerging technologies, and North Warren's modest student population.
Turning serious, he praised the assembled family members, faculty and community residents for their many years of support.
"You deserve a big round of applause," he said. "I know for certain that this senior class will succeed in everything they try to accomplish."
Fahey recounted the rewards of hard work and persistence, noting in particular the sports teams' dedication in the face of overwhelming odds. Such an approach develops leadership, "street smarts," enduring friendship, and the ability to work as a team and reach outside one's comfort zone.
"Even if we were on a losing streak, we kept a high morale because we were all together - and knowing that we were working hard made us who we are today," she said.