Principal Jeff Simon head shot at graduation (copy)

Jeff Simon, principal of Payson High School, at the 2019 graduation. This year, Simon gave his speech digitally because of COVID-19.

My name is Jeff Simon, and I am the proud principal of Payson High School. I would like to welcome each of you to tonight’s digital commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020!

Before we begin, I would like to give a special thanks to all those who have made this digital ceremony come alive: Thank you to our interim superintendent, Dr. Mark Turgaskus and our future superintendent Mrs. Linda Gibson. Our governing board President Mrs. Joann Conlin, our governing board Vice President Mrs. Jolynn Schinstock and board members Mrs. Shelia Deschaff, Mrs. Michelle Marinelli and Mrs. Barbara Underwood. Thank you for all you do for Payson Unified School District.

I would also like to thank our high school’s administrative team, our Assistant Principal Ms. Michelle Doiron, Mr. Rich Ormand, our athletic director, Mr. Brian Young, our student achievement teacher, and Mrs. Ashli Brownlee, who played a large part in the planning of tonight’s event.

A huge thank you to our guidance counselors Mrs. Linda Griffith and Mr. Don Heizer who both put in countless hours assisting our students on their journey toward this moment.

Of course, we are especially grateful for our parents, guardians, grandparents, family and friends who have joined us digitally this evening. Thank you for attending and thank you for sharing these talented young ladies and gentlemen with us.

I would also like to recognize our high school, middle school and elementary school teachers, staff and administrators who have played an important role in the lives of tonight’s graduates.

Finally, a huge welcome to the CLASS of 2020 who we honor tonight.

Honors and good things

It is my honor to announce tonight that some of our graduates have chosen to defend our freedom by joining one of the branches of the armed services, I would like for our PHS heroes to know they are joining a brotherhood and sisterhood of heroes who have been protecting the freedoms of this great country since its inception. Thank you for accepting this challenge.

Here at Payson High School, before we start our classes, meetings or any gatherings, we do good things. I would like to share some good things about the class of 2020.

• Out of our 22 dual enrollment offerings, our students, in large part our senior class, earned over 1,200 college credits this year.

• The class of 2020 received roughly 2.3 million dollars worth of scholarship offers this year.

• Ms. Germany Hall has received her associate’s degree with honors at the same time she is receiving her high school diploma. She is also a CTE completer in culinary arts and a certificated completer in Allied Health.

• Zacary Taylor has been accepted into the Army where he will be working in military intelligence and linguistics. Zach had to take a test above and beyond the ASVAB to be accepted into the program and as Mrs. Wallace put it, Zach nailed the test and had received one of the highest scores on that entrance exam!

• We always have students who have to travel a more difficult path to make it to graduation but we have one student in particular, and I think you know who you are, who had to battle through adversity in her home and school life to get to this point. She had to finish her final high school classes in an alternative setting, she not only finished all of her classes on her own but finished them early while holding down a job. To me, she is the definition of perseverance and grit. Young lady, you will go far in this world, don’t let anybody hold you back!

I could go on and on with good things about the class of 2020 but I’m sure you are all ready to graduate.

In less than an hour, you will no longer be a high school student but a student of the world.Graduation is an exciting time.

It marks both an ending and a beginning; it’s memories of the past and big dreams for the future … and in some ways, we are all on the journey with our graduates of 2020 especially over the last three months.

Even though we may not be getting a diploma or wearing a cap and gown, we have felt the pain of the loss that you all have endured during this shutdown. But as lifelong learners, we have reflections, revelations, and insights from our own educational journeys and life experiences to help you on the next chapters of your life.

This weekend, principals across the country are giving graduates advice about life, relationships, finding success and the keys to true happiness. These speeches will hopefully encourage graduates to follow their dreams, remember their strengths, and embrace their purpose as they continue to evolve into superheroes.

Yes, I did say superhero. You see, I believe you are all superheroes. A superhero is someone with extraordinary abilities, of courage, strong moral code, tolerant to pain, a great sense of responsibility, fighting spirit and mental stability and these traits are within each and every one of us.

I believe the superhero trait is like a coin, one side could lead you to become a superhero while the other side could lead you to become a victim, it is all in how you react to situations.

The world today is playing out like a superhero movie with the world pandemic threatening our ways of life. It would be easy to fall victim to our unfortunate circumstances or we can fight, fight like a superhero. Maybe your fight will be finding a cure for pandemics, or working in the medical field and helping save lives, maybe become a police officer, firefighter or service member and protect our way of life, becoming a teacher, become a solid member of our society contributing to our civic duties or maybe your superhero role is being a loving, caring father, mother, spouse or family member. These exemplify the traits of a true superhero.

As I wrote and rewrote this graduation speech, this whole topic of being a superhero got me thinking about an interesting question. What would a superhero say to our graduating class of 2020?

With the power of your their life lessons in mind, what would they emphasize, what would they avoid, and what would they simply advise?

Here are 10 thought-provoking quotes that I believe they would want you to know on your journey to becoming a superhero.

No. 1 “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” – Batman

No. 2 “No matter how bad things get, something good is out there, over the horizon.” – Green Lantern

No. 3 “Someone must have ripped the ‘Q’ section out of my dictionary, ’cause I don’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit’.” – Mr. Furious

No. 4 “Heroes are made by the path they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”– Iron Man

No. 5 “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Superman

No. 6 “With great power, comes great responsibility.” – Spider-Man

No. 7, “Life doesn’t give us purpose. We give life purpose.” – The Flash

No. 8 “You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” – Spider-Man

No. 9 “You’re going to make a difference. A lot of times it won’t be huge, it might not be visible. But it will matter just the same.” – Commissioner James Gordon

No. 10 “A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the size of his heart.” – Zeus

Much of all of this boils down to a few simple yet powerful concepts — always dream, get up when you’ve been knocked down, always practice kindness and compassion, believe you can always make a difference, and never forget the power you have within you.

Congratulations Class of 2020, I truly wish all of you the very best in the next chapter of your superhero life.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited for print because of space constraints. View the entire speech at

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