Pine River-Backus teachers share lists of life lessons for students to remember forever

Two teachers share advice as Pine River-Backus graduates go into the future

Teachers Katie Verschelde and Ben Kinser shared life tips with the Pine River-Backus 2021 graduating class during the Friday, June 4 ceremony. They admitted some tips were valuable and some were more silly than anything. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Ben Kinser: Good evening.

I first want to express my sincerest congratulations to the wonderful young adults sitting behind me and express how honored I am to have been asked to speak here tonight.

Mrs. Verschelde was asked first, and after about 15 people said no, they asked me! In my truly positive attitude, I said, at least I was No. 18 and not 19!

The nice thing is though, I didn’t feel any pressure because we all know that graduation speeches have a half life of about 15 minutes, so by the time we all leave here tonight, nobody will remember what I said!

All kidding aside, this is a truly amazing group of students sitting here in front of us.


Katie Verschelde: To the class of 2021. I’d like to start off with a quote that seems fitting for this extraordinary group that sits before you. Newt Gingrich said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

To each of you sitting behind me, that’s what you’ve done. You have persevered. The last few laps of the journey called high school are hard enough. What you’ve accomplished in the past several months is extra, additional hard work that you’ve had to do even after being tired and exhausted from the hard work you would have normally already done.

This is perseverance. You should be extremely proud of yourselves for this. Know that your teachers, family, friends and community all admire you for your dedication and determination to get to this ceremony today.

"You will not always have the answers and may not realize where to go, but there will always be people along the way to help you, and I know that any one of your friends and mentors during high school will be one of them."

— Ben Kinser, Pine River-Backus School band director

You did it. You finally made it. You have persevered and the journey is coming to a close. We’re here to celebrate you, but don’t forget about everyone who has been on this journey as well, pushing you to succeed.

Take a moment to look around. Look at your classmates sitting next to you, look at your family in the crowd. These people and these circumstances have shaped you more than you know. Together, you’ve gotten through a lot.

Trust me, I know your motivation was running low. Let us quickly recall the spring of 2020, when you were all nocturnal, sleeping through Google Meets, being late to first hour every day (you know who you are).


So parents, siblings, family, friends, staff, employers and anyone else playing a major role in these students' lives, thank you. I don’t want to discredit any of the hard work they’ve accomplished, but just in case they don’t say it out loud, you’ve played your part in this, too.

Kinser: When I look out over this class, a flood of memories come back to me. From band concerts to volleyball games. Remembering how you all were once those seventh- and eighth-graders that you all complain about now.

Remembering all of the laughs, drama, fun times, serious times, all of the great friendships I’ve seen grow and all of the most joyous and most painful of times.

"What you’ve accomplished in the past several months is extra, additional hard work that you’ve had to do even after being tired and exhausted from the hard work you would have normally already done. This is perseverance."

— Katie Verschelde, Pine River-Backus School science teacher

Verschelde: Just to share a few that come to mind (because we don’t have all day) are Malachi’s energetic cheering at sporting events, Trevor’s practical jokes with the scientific Cole’s Law (you had to be there), and Rylie always heckling Andrew.

Along with numerous band and choir concerts, talent shows and skits, games and meets, planning and enjoying prom with many of you, and so many more memories that you’ve made with here friends and staff. They have brought us here, where you sit in front of us today.

Kinser: I remember all of those years ago, when I was in that chair and I vividly remember thinking, “Now what?" I knew I was going to college and had planned to become an engineer. Obviously some things changed along the way and that is OK.

You will not always have the answers and may not realize where to go, but there will always be people along the way to help you, and I know that any one of your friends and mentors during high school will be one of them.


So to start you in the right direction, we began thinking about what lessons we had learned that we wanted to convey during this - we had a flood of wisdomous ideas! So Mrs. Verschelde and I narrowed it down to a list of 20 21 life lessons to remember forever.

Now some of these are deep in thought, knowledge and intellect. Some are common sense, and some are none of the above!

Kinser’s Epic List

  • Kinser. Don’t be afraid to change your mind.
  • Verschelde. Never fall in love with a tennis player - love means nothing to them!
  • Kinser. If you see a bowl full of Teddy Grahams in milk, throw in some Cheerios so they don’t drown!
  • Verschelde. It is never too late to apologize.
  • Kinser. If you struggle driving in the snow, just pretend you’re taking your grandma to church with a tray of pickle rolls and a 5-gallon pot of hot coffee in the back seat and she is wearing a brand new dress and holding a crockpot full of gravy.
  • Verschelde. Always remember to empty the lint trap in your dryer so it doesn’t catch fire.
  • Kinser. If you don’t like coffee, learn to like coffee - it will save your day at some point.
  • Verschelde. Make sure to wash your hands after handling hot peppers.
  • Kinser. Never trust an electrician with no eyebrows.
  • Verschelde. The more you learn, the less you truly know.
  • Kinser. Dance like nobody is watching ... because they are likely all checking their phones anyway.
  • Verschelde. Your grade school career has been a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead.
  • Kinser. Don’t dwell on your mistakes, learn from them.
  • Verschelde. The best things in life are free like fresh air and Costco samples.
  • Kinser. I have never met anyone that I have not learned something from.
  • Verschelde. You can never be overdressed or overeducated. - Oscar Wilde
  • Kinser. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step ... unless you invested in dogecoin and have a choice of Ferrari’s to use.
  • Verschelde. Never borrow money to pay off borrowed money. If you do borrow money, borrow from a pessimist because they will never expect it back!
  • Kinser. Life is your elective.
  • Verschelde. If you want to be a good parent, let your kids lick the beaters. If you want to be a great parent, shut them off first!
  • Kinser. When they hand you your diploma ... keep moving in case they try to take it back!

Verschelde’s List

  • 1. Always show up early. Except to birthday parties, it just gets awkward.
  • 2. Don’t assume anything.
  • 3. Don’t worry about what others think of you - it doesn’t matter!
  • 4. Only trust people who like big butts. They cannot lie.
  • 5. Be a good listener. People don’t always need your advice, but a listening ear can mean a lot.
  • 6. No one is beneath you, always treat others with respect and kindness.
  • 7. Wear sunscreen. And wash your face before bed.
  • 8. Be kind to everyone you meet.
  • 9. In need of motivation? Headphones and your favorite music is a good option.
  • 10. Before you move out, make sure you have all of your relative’s accounts and passwords for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.
  • 11. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  • 12. If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.
  • 13. This one is easier said than done, but try not to wait until all of your dishes are dirty until you wash them.
  • 14. Don’t worry about things that are out of your control, because what’s the point?
  • 15. Always give 100%. Unless you’re donating blood.
  • 16. Knowledge comes from experience. Never stop learning.
  • 17. Just because you’re angry, doesn’t mean you have the right to be mean.
  • 18. Don’t dwell on the past. Just learn from it.
  • 19. News flash: Not everything you read on the internet is true.
  • 20. I never believed when people older than me told me they couldn’t physically sleep in anymore. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s true. So sleep in while you can!

Kinser: Of all the graduates sitting behind me, I can lump you into four categories.

The first are those who know exactly what they want to do, where they want to go and will continue on that path through their adult lives.

The second are those that think they know exactly what they want to do and where they want to go but will discover at some moment in their future that they were wrong and adjust course.

The third group, they know what they are good at, and although they may not want to do whatever that is for their life, it is a talent or skill and a means to make a living.


The last group is my favorite because it is the group that has no idea what they want to do! They may think they do, but they really don’t.

The best part is, that no matter which group you fall into, it is OK! You are concluding a chapter where you have been pushed, taught, given knowledge, had expectations and deadlines, and worked extremely hard to accomplish everything that you have, but this is just the beginning.

In our list earlier, I mentioned not to be afraid to change your mind. This has many meanings, but most profoundly is not to be afraid to try a new career, a new path or something different because true happiness is achieved within and without happiness, there is not much else.

Now, obviously this doesn’t mean that we all have struggles and bad days and such, but what it means is that your path is not chosen, your path is not decided and you are the only one that gets to decide where that path leads.

The wonderful staff here at PR-B have given you a gift, the gift of the ability to make and choose your own path, to critically think, to problem solve, and the tools to be a successful adult.

I’m sorry to our math department and to Mr. Dahle, my math teacher, but I did not need to know what the differential coefficient is in my adult life (I believe we now say derivative for those playing at home). I did, however, need to know how to problem solve, think logically and create solutions ... even if they were not the correct ones.

This ability has served me well and will serve you well in your future endeavors.

I am so excited for you to go fly, to see where you go, for you to see the world, but always know that there will be a place for you in this community.


It is sad to think about the fact that this is likely one of the final times that all of you will be in the same room together. Some will go and find new communities to join as I have here. Some will go and come back in the future, and some will create a family and life right here.

All of these are wonderful and can bring happiness, but know that you and only you are the PR-B class of 2021 and nobody or no place can take that away from you.

Congratulations to each one of you and I wish you all the best this crazy world has to offer!

Verschelde: Well seniors, everything comes to an end, but that’s what makes them valuable. Today marks the ending of your high school career, but the beginning of the rest of your life!

Take all the lessons you’ve learned from high school and use them to build yourself a successful life and become the very best version of yourself you can be! Find your passion and live it!

It’s been an honor to get to know you and we will miss you tremendously! As we part, I’d like to leave you with my favorite quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Congratulations class of 2021, go get 'em!

Ben Kinser is Pine River-Backus School band director and Katie Verschelde is Pine River-Backus School science teacher.

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