To illustrate his point about the need for doggedness in life, George C. Marshall High School geosystems teacher – and huge Washington Nationals fan – Andrew Litterst got an on-stage assist from one of the baseball team’s Racing Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt.

Speaking at the school’s 56th commencement ceremony on June 12 at D.A.R. Constitution Hall, Litterst urged graduates to be persistent and noted that the large-headed mascot representing the 26th U.S. president had lost his first 525 races at Nationals Park before winning one of those sprints.

Graduates should try new things, roll with life’s punches, appreciate the absurdity of it all and ask for help if they need it, Litterst said. He also gave a quote from the first President Roosevelt from the days when he was assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy: “The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything.”

The 559-member class, which was the largest in Marshall High’s history, took to the stage in caps and gowns of Columbia blue, with scarlet accents.

C. Russell Fletcher III, acting president and chairman of the George C. Marshall Foundation, bestowed the school’s annual Statesman Awards to seniors Garreth Bartholomew and Ella Tynch.

Tynch, a senior class officer, noted the graduates once had elected a canine to the homecoming court.

“Our class never ceases to make me smile,” she said.

Marshall High values students for who they are instead of who they’re expected to be, and teaches them to be kind, support one another in success and comfort them in grief, Tynch said.

She quoted from John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”: “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

Senior class officer Rohan Shah noted that the graduates had spent about 15,380 hours in class, half again as much as the 10,000 hours it allegedly takes to master a skill. Saying old ways will not open new doors, Shah said Marshall High had taught the class members to be “Earth-shakers and change-makers.”

“We’ve learned how to love learning,” Shah said. “We’ve learned how to stand boldly in the face of adversity and come through it in style. We’ve learned to respect each other, regardless of our differences.”

James MacIndoe, who taught at Marshall for eight years, gave the keynote address and said he had been humbled by the school community’s love and kindness after his infant son, Finn, died suddenly last October.

MacIndoe drew upon notebook entries with nuggets of wisdom he once had hoped to give his son.

Among his tips: Be flexible, learn to live with uncertainty and realize you don’t have all the answers.

“Nothing in life is guaranteed,” he said. “You can be blessed in all sorts of ways – intellectually, athletically, financially – but you don’t deserve anything. That sounds cruel, but it’s true. The world is beautiful, but often unfair.”

MacIndoe also advised the class to cultivate a deep well of kindness and replenish it by being kind to themselves, and to develop an emotional-support system and use it often.

“Make decisions that benefit lives beyond yours,” he added. “Develop a toolbox for all manner of experiences.”

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