At his Western Albemarle High School graduation ten years ago, Kevin McCann thought he had it all figured out.
"I was very optimistic," said McCann. "Once I actually started going to school, I realized that I was completely lost."
During his third year at the University of Virginia, McCann enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following graduation, McCann was deployed to Afghanistan as a Combat Engineer.
Along with the constant challenges of heat and danger, McCann's unit endured fifty percent casualties. McCann was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained during a grenade explosion.
In his speech at Western Albemarle High School's Valediction ceremony Thursday, McCann encouraged seniors to keep an open mind as they move forward, offering advice he wished he could have shared with himself ten years ago.
"If I could go back in time, I would just tell myself, it's okay you don't have everything figured out," McCann said. "What's important is that you take positive steps in a positive direction."
For McCann, those positive first steps resulted in his commissioning as a Marine Corps officer and graduating cum laude from University of Richmond's School of Law. He is currently studying for the Virginia Bar exam and intends to work as a Judge Advocate.
Andrew Cohen, a senior, appreciated McCann's reassurance. "A scholarship [application] asked me where I saw myself in ten years," Cohen said. "I don't know. Maybe a mirror? What kind of a question is that?"
McCann also encouraged seniors to use humor in tough situations. He predicted that students would make mistakes and feel confused at times.
"The bottom line is that things are going to get tough at some point in your future. You're going to face a huge challenge or realize you've made a huge mistake," McCann said. "What's important is not to dwell on it - to get past it, laugh about it, and move on."
McCann foreshadowed the adult world Western Albemarle graduates are soon to enter.
"Ten years ago, I'd been under the wing of my parents, so I'd never been tested in the real world," McCann said. "I had faced very little adversity at that point, if any. And I guess probably back then, I took things for granted a lot more - and maybe that's why I was so optimistic, just because I had never had to deal with any kind of real life problems."
Western Albemarle’s graduation ceremony takes place this evening, the first for its new principal.
"High school graduation is a watershed event," said principal John Werner. "It's kind of that symbolic move from childhood to adulthood."
Werner anticipates that the class of 2014 will go on to great achievements, in keeping with the numerous awards and scholarships students received at the event.
McCann concluded with a message to family members in the audience.
"If your family member asks for help from you in the future, please continue to provide that help, support, and love,” said McCann. “I went from an unhappy, lost college student with no direction to a Marine Corps officer and future Judge Advocate, and that's due mainly to the support I received from my family."