Congratulations, Class of 2016!

Graduation season is the best time of year. It’s a time when our students are celebrated for their hard work, dedication, and perseverance. It’s a time for reflecting on the very best moments, and the challenges along the way that surely could have derailed anyone. High school graduation is the bittersweet closing of one door, and opening of a whole new set of possibilities.

This year marks my final graduation season as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Over the last seven years, I’ve watched our students grow and achieve in ways that makes me immensely proud to lead our public schools. More students are now graduating from high school than ever before, giving those students an opportunity to build a bright future for themselves and their families.

A record-high 86 percent of Montana’s students graduate from high school. Our state’s dropout rate has been cut by one-third since 2009. That achievement hasn’t happened by accident. It’s thanks to the parents, students, educators, community leaders, and business partners in 58 Montana communities who have joined Graduation Matters Montana, placing an emphasis on the importance of a high school diploma.

Graduates across this state who are about to receive their diplomas have the potential to earn on-average $8,000 more each year than a high school dropout. In fact, the Alliance for Excellent Education estimates Montana will see a $6 million annual boost to the state’s economy because 540 more students graduated in 2015 than in 2009.

The Class of 2016 is ready for their next challenge. These graduates have met higher academic standards than students who came before them. These graduates have had more access to college readiness and job training opportunities. These graduates are engaged with their communities and ready to be leaders on the job, in college or in the military.

The most important piece of paper I ever received was my high school diploma. It led to college, graduate school, law school, job opportunities and elected office. My high school diploma made me who I am today, and presented opportunities I didn’t even think possible.

Congratulations, Class of 2016. As you walk across that stage on graduation day in front of all your friends, family, and community members who’ve cheered you on along the way, know that all of Montana is so proud of what you’ve accomplished. When our students succeed, each and every one of us benefits.