It's that time of year again. Time for graduates to break out into the real-world and go on to accomplish the great things they've spent the last few years of their life preparing for. It's a happy time for most and also a time of reflection and nostalgia. So naturally, Panchero's comes to mind, right!? Well, for Spencer Hughes it does. Spencer is a recent graduate of Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and he was chosen to give the student address at Xavier's commencement ceremony this last weekend. Now, when you think of commencement speech you don't often think of Panchero's; but Spencer did! His speech is full of Panchero's metaphors (which make me a little hungry, to be honest) that compare his experiences in our restaurants to his experience through school. What a great idea, Spencer! I've attached a copy of his speech for your reading pleasure.
Well, here we are. Class of 2010, it's our turn. We've made it through our 12 years of kindergarten nap times, elementary school recesses, middle school lunches, and everything high school has to offer, from classes to concerts to dances to games. And now, we are the ones who will “go make a difference.” We thank our parents, our teachers and school staff members, our coaches and directors, our parish priests, our brothers and sisters and grandparents and neighbors, and everyone else who stood beside us during our childhood, who loved us unconditionally, and who cheered us on. We will continue our life journeys even stronger because of all of your support.
But before we leave this place that we have come to love so dearly over the past four years, we need to take a moment and reflect on all it has meant to us. We can't forget the joy it has brought us in our celebrations, or the comfort it has provided in our times of sorrow. We can't forget how it’s always been there for us, even in the late hours of the night. We can't forget the nourishment that it provided for our minds, our hearts, and our stomachs. This special place, this place that means so much to us… is, of course, Panchero's Mexican Grill.
I would also like to thank Xavier High School for its help in connecting me to other lovers of Panchero's.
We all know that there's something special about Panchero's. This establishment means so much more to us than just fresh pressed tortillas. It has taught us more life lessons than I can begin to count. For example, I have learned the essentials of decision making while standing in its line.
I still remember my first trip to this wondrous establishment. I was a young, timid lad, new to the world of fresh American/Mexican cuisine. I was standing in line, staring up at the board filled with choices upon choices of food items that ended in vowels, when suddenly I was pulled back into reality by the open-ended question, “What can I get you?” And I was mercilessly thrown into a do-or-die situation. Quesadilla or burrito? Chicken or steak? And, of course, the question that every broke high schooler asks themselves – do I really want to spend an extra dollar on queso?
But answering those questions, however trivial they may seem, has better prepared me to make choices and decisions here at Xavier. Most of us were forced at some point to choose between two activities we loved, or two courses we knew we’d enjoy, because of the realization that there simply was not enough time in the day for both. We have been placed in those “do-or-die” situations when we knew Mr. Schaub's test was tomorrow, but our friends were all hanging out tonight. Or when we knew Mr. C wanted those lines memorized for rehearsal the next day, but The Office was on television. These choices may have seemed a little more important than the choice between pinto or black beans, but because we made that call, we were able to make the tougher ones here at Xavier, too.
And these decision-making skills will serve us well in the future. Our college majors, our first jobs, and our eventual careers will all be somewhat more impressive decisions than how hot we want our salsa to be. But I firmly believe that, because we were able to decide whether or not we wanted pico de gallo, we’re now better equipped to make those larger decisions in the future.
Panchero's has also taught me the important lesson of determination. Many of you know exactly what I mean. You are sitting at a table, feeling as if you are about to explode, and in front of you is that one last bite of the burrito. You want to give up. You look over and see the trash can just steps away. But that would be too easy. Because there it sits, neatly perched on the foil wrapper. You look at it, and it looks back at you. No, it stares back at you. It laughs at you. It questions your manhood. And then you know, deep down, that you must beat the burrito.
We have brought this same level of perseverance to the classroom, the practice fields, and the stage here at Xavier. There were many days during football practice, with Coach Schulte and Coach Sullivan ... “motivating” us, that I questioned if the work was worth it. There were multiple occasions in the theatre during Xhilaration rehearsal, with Mr. Last demanding that we “run it again” over and over and over, that I wondered if I really wanted to go through it. And I know that all of you have stories and memories just like these, as well. But that's life. There will be many days over the next year, the next decade – even the next week, perhaps, where putting in the effort may seem like too much. Where we think that we just can't do it. When the vision of what we’re striving for seems so far away, nearly out of reach, and all the hard work we’re doing seems as if it will never pay off. But it will. If there is one thing Panchero's has taught us, it's that if we can finish a burrito, we can do anything. And when the obstacles seem like too much for us, we must look back and remember the times that we were able to overcome. Whether it was to finish that one football practice, that one paper for Mrs. Flores, or even if it was only to finish that one last bite of the burrito.
Sadly, we also know some lessons can only be taught to us by life itself. We learned one of these, together, in January of 2007. When we lost a close friend and classmate in Jacob Giles, there was no class on how to deal with such a loss. We did not have a textbook or a teacher to explain how to feel, or what to do. But we had our faith, and we had each other. And by leaning on each other and on God, and by drawing upon that faith, we grew together so much. I know Jacob is looking down on us right now and smiling – and not just because we are all wearing these cardboard hats – but because he knows that we are each stronger for having faced such a difficult life lesson. And we will forever carry that lesson and Jacob’s memory with us.
There is one last lesson Panchero's has taught us that I believe is particularly important. No matter what, it always will be better when it's shared with friends. What can be more satisfying than pulling up to the Panch fifteen minutes before closing time with friends, and just enjoying each others company while eating a meal with a week's worth of calories? If there is one thing that we remember as we leave this place and go our separate ways, and as Panchero's becomes less of a social center for our lives, it is that our friendships are among the most important things that we have. And for that, we all have Xavier High School to thank. I have formed my closest friendships within these beautiful gray walls, and I am eternally grateful.
Our high school education may be over, but our relationships don't have to be. Things will be different, of course. We may not see each other for a month, a semester, or even a year... but when we do, we will remember the good times we had together, and the lessons that we learned at both Xavier and Panchero's. If wherever you go next fall happens to have a Panchero's of its own – and I've already found the one in Ames - be sure to introduce your new friends to it. There are always more lessons to be learned. Thank you and congratulations to all.