COLUMBIA CITY — After 13 years of education — studying, planning and preparing for the moment of graduation — students in Columbia City High School’s Class of 2019 likely didn’t expect the advice they’d receive from faculty speaker Ian Strass.

“You’ve been busy worrying about what comes next … what career do you want? What education should you pursue? What major should you choose? My advice? Don’t. Don’t worry so much about all of these things,” Strass said at Friday’s graduation ceremony. “This advice is going to contradict most of what the adults in your life have been telling you.”

Instead, Strass suggested the graduates work to find their own way, whatever that may be.

“It’s time for you to be yourself … to make your own decisions. Make no mistake, some of those decisions will be bad. Some will be painful. But take time to find something interesting. Explore. Be creative. Understand yourself … your abilities, your interests,” Strass said. “I think most people struggle through the process of self-discovery after high school.”

Strass went on to share his personal experience in his young adulthood — working in a sales job that he hated.

“Once I realized I wanted to be a teacher — even though it came with more stress and a pay cut — it became easy,” he said.

Strass, a science teacher at Eagle Tech Academy, shared his interpretation of what it means to be human — not from a biology standpoint, but in humans’ ability to care for one another.

“It’s about our connection to others. We feel the need to be strong … to search for answers ourselves. In this, we fail. And we feel alone because of it,” Strass said. “If we’re going to be human, it’s our duty to make the emptiness bearable for others. We are defined and remembered solely by the way we interact with and treat others.

“Being human isn’t something we are, it’s something we strive to be. We should strive to be sympathetic and understanding. To lift up and draw hope from others. Be yourself. Be human. The rest of us need you. The world will be OK without another accountant. Society will be fine without more lawyers. Columbia City will be fine without the next politician. We won’t be OK if we aren’t compassionate friends, empathetic neighbors and thoughtful leaders.

“Whatever career you choose, wherever you end up — you will go on to do great things. Go … be human.”

Assistant Superintendent Laura McDermott also addressed the students and crowd, sharing the successes of the class — such as those who graduated with up to one year of college credits, industry-recognized certifications, hands-on experience through internships and hours of community service and leadership projects.

“I am in awe of you, what you’ve been able to accomplish, what you’ve learned and demonstrated and what you’ve been willing to do,” McDermott said. “It is evident you have taken advantage of the many opportunities that have been offered to you.”