Hello, my name is Michael Cline I am 18 years old, and this year’s Payson High School 2020 valedictorian, and on behalf of this year’s graduating class, I welcome you and thank you for being here. Oh, wait ... no one is here ... thank you very much COVID-19.

This year and this year’s entire commencement celebration will be one that goes down in history as one of a kind. The hardest part for me giving this speech is I have no way of knowing if you understood my sincerity if you are laughing at my attempt at humor or even if some of you have fallen asleep because I’m rambling on.

Protocol says first I thank my fellow graduating class, wait, that’s not very politically correct ... I would like to thank my classmates ... the faculty, my friends, and family ... basically everyone I have encountered these past four years that in one way or another has helped me to be the person standing before you. Many people sitting here (well actually no one is sitting here, but the ones in spirit) there are a lot of people that have encouraged, influenced, and motivated me to be the best version of myself I am.

To Mr. Fiala, my physics teacher, I say thank you as he always encouraged me to question the whys of physics which showed me how to think things through. He also helped me think through and find ways to question my next great adventure.

To Ms. Fowler, my English teacher, I say thank you for never coming right out and calling my questioning “debating everything she said” but allowed me to discuss openly with her my thought process on old English literature and let us not forget poetry... eh, maybe forget the poetry.

And let’s not forget Mr. Meidinger, my math teacher, and the only person I’ve seen get mad at us for not talking enough.

To my track coaches Coach Ball and Coach White, a huge thank you. Even though they didn’t agree I should become a thrower and thought I should do something else, they allowed me to make that decision against their better judgment and happily Coach Ball presented me with my track and field varsity letter for the shot and discus last year. He allowed me to learn (that) if you set your goals high and work at them you can achieve them and oh yeah, by the way, coach I was going to make it to the state track meet this year… thank you, COVID-19, I really appreciate it!

Another major person in my life I want to thank is my dad. All 12 years of my education my dad and I lived apart due to his job having him travel and move around a lot. So in an effort to give me stability, I lived my school years with my grandma and spent summers with my dad, but every night he called me at 7 p.m. to check in with me and see how my day went. He always asked me questions about my day (it) drove me crazy sometimes but I always knew he was there loving and supporting me and encouraging me to make it to this point to move onward and upward. Lord knows he never expected me to be the valedictorian.

Why did I just tell you all that private part of my life? Because any one of us could stand up here and tell how they got to this amazing graduation day, but I personally learned at an early age the importance of self-accountability and that the choices we make are ultimately our own. We all need to make our own way in life and not just follow what others are doing ... and always remember to thank those in your life that have helped you see right from wrong and those who (are) there to encourage you, which brings me to the next thing — be nice — we all need to be nice, it’s not that hard. You have no idea what someone is dealing with in their life.

The simple fact that we have all made it to graduation proves we are all destined to greatness and that all of us will shape the world. We are a resilient group. We have flourished over the past four years and have grown to realize we can overcome and rise over whatever life throws at us. Every student here today has had their share of disappointments and upsets, including myself ... did I mention I was going to make it to the state meet this year ... thank you COVID-19. Now we just need to show the world we can accept change and overcome whatever is thrown our way. We are resilient, and this is a testament to who we are. We have flourished over the past years and had many challenges and obstacles to overcome. We are unstoppable so look out world.

Look at the bright side, we will have many tales to tell our kids and grandkids much like how our parents told us how they walked uphill 10 miles each way barefoot in the snow to go to school every day. I will be looking forward to telling my kids about when the big COVID-19 hit I was 18 years old and our track and field teammates couldn’t even get enough toilet paper to TP Coach Ball’s house ... and yes coach I would have made it to state this year.

So to this class of 2020 be proud of yourself, don’t look on these last few months with self-pity because you missed the prom or an award assembly or a concert or a track meet. Be proud of your hard work, resilience, and tenacity to make it to the finish. Take the time to work on yourself, to be a better person every day, and to hold fast to your values to meet the expectations to become the best version of yourself. The winning results come from your hard work, learning from failure, and above all else being persistent. Set your goals and remember they should never be too easy. After all, the choice is always yours to improve.

So as we part ways, follow your dreams and do what makes you happy ... fly through the turbulence of life ... wherever you go, go with all your heart ... be thoughtful of yourself and be a friend.

And now I give to you all Payson high school class of 2020.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited for print because of space constraints. View the entire speech at payson.com Cheers to the quarantined class of 2020!

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