For the graduates of Butler County's Project Encore, their graduation marked the beginning of the rest of their lives. Friends, family members and supporters gathered in the Welcome Center at Butler Community College to join in the celebration, joy and accomplishments of the newest graduates.

For the graduates of Butler County’s Project Encore, their graduation marked the beginning of the rest of their lives. Friends, family members and supporters gathered in the Welcome Center at Butler Community College to join in the celebration, joy and accomplishments of the newest graduates.

Project Encore Director Joani Purdy opened the ceremony with words of admiration for the graduates’ hard work.

“This event is truly the most exciting event of our year,” began Purdy. “It is definitely a time for us to honor the accomplishments of our students and to honor their dedication. We also honor all the hard work they’ve put in this year to get to this evening.”

To continue the celebration, Purdy introduced nationally known speaker Dr. Steve Woolf.

“In the early 1980s a company did a study,” he began. “They brought 50 people who were 95 years of age or older. They asked them a question: if you could live life again, what would you do differently? I could ask this question right now and I would get an amazing range of responses. All 50 gave the same three responses. If you can’t learn from 50 95 year olds, you can’t learn from anybody. They’ve lived life and they all agreed. The first response was they would reflect more.”

He went on to recall a the birth of his first son, who was premature, and tell of his first experience parenting alone while his wife went to the store. He went on to explain how watching his son graduate from high school and go on to college always reminded him of the five pound newborn.

“Reflection is when one takes one of those amazing moments in their lives and replays them in their brains,” explained Woolf. “The 95 year olds wish they would replay them more because if they aren’t replayed often, they’ll be gone and forgotten. I hope to remember all the important moments in my life when I’m 95.”

Woolf continued to reveal the answers given by the group of 95 year olds.

“Their second answer was ‘take risks’,” he said. “This is just the beginning of your lives – make them extraordinary! It’s important to quit being ordinary and be amazing instead.”

He went on to explain how he knew first hand taking a risk can pay off. He told of how his wife wanted to be accepted for the television reality show Survivor and how she continually sent in video tapes of herself, but was never accepted. He told of how she began to try new things to make herself more interesting; she tried a Scottish accent and she even got her pilot’s license and learned to fly. In the end, when she was still never accepted for the show, she took a risk and began applying or jobs which were way outside her comfort zone.

“She applied for several jobs she had no experience in,” explained Woolf. “She finally got a job in the fashion industry. She took a risk and now she gets to fly all over the world to different events and she gets to meet lots of interesting, new people. She would have missed everything if she had not had the guts to take the risk.”

Wolf then explained the third and final answer to the question.

“Their final answer was ‘do more things that last’,” said Woolf. “What they really meant was: do something with your life to make it mean something. I am curently 40-11 years old. I didn’t feel old at 25 like some do. I began to feel old at 36, which is otherwise known as 20-16. I read a study once which said the average life expectancy is 72. I figured if I could survive cancer, heart attacks and large trucks, I could make it to 72 with no problems, but at 36, I realized half of my life was already gone. I have used 26,280 days and I have roughly 13,500 left and no amount of money will ever bring those days back.”

He went on to explain the importance of leaving something behind.

“What I often wonder in my life is ‘what will people say when I’m dead?” Woolf said. “Will they say it was such a pity I didn’t do more with my life or will they comment on how worn out by body is and how well I used my time?”

He expressed the importance of what the present teachers were accomplishing with their students as well.

“Be sure to thank your teachers before you leave tonight,” he said. “They have influenced and taught the students, and those graduating are their legacy.”

Woolf was hopeful of the future for the graduates.

“I love coming to these graduations,” he explained. “It is exciting for me to look at the future in the audience. Everyone here has an amazing story to tell and I’m positive the world will become a more amazing place because of the graduates.”

El Dorado teacher Michelle Land was the first to begin introducing the graduates.

“Project Encore has been my home for the past 12 years,” began Land. “It is now time for me to spread my wings and move on. I have a lot in common with a lot of the graduates here this evening. It is time for all of you to spread your wings and soar. During the next step in our lives, I want you to remember one word: courage. It takes courage to dream; courage to start; courage to fight; and more courage to finish. You did it. You earned your high school diploma. So as you spread your wings and soar, remember courage. You can do anything you set your mind to. You are an inspiration to all and when times get tough, I’ll think back to the graduates here tonight and I’ll follow their example. Thank you class of 2014.”

Ric Stamper introduced some of the graduates from Andover.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with and meet some outstanding individuals,” began Stamper. “Many enter our program for all kinds of different reasons and circumstances. I know how tough it is to enter a program like this – to come back and work on your high school diploma. I know how hard many of you have worked. It is my honor to announce the graduates of Project Encore of Andover.”

Joyce Ubben introduced the rest of the Andover students.

“All their hard work and dedication paid off,” said Ubban. “It is my honor to present this diploma from Andover Central High School.”

Holly Murtha introduced the students from Rose Hill.

“I am not good at giving advice, so I’m going to stat with a quote from someone who is: the great Bill Cosby,” began Murtha. “‘In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.’ I am honored tonight to give these outstanding students their diplomas.”

Terri Hood, a virtual instructor, was the last to present diplomas to students.

“We’ve all had thoughts and goals –like losing weight, eati ng healthier and working out more,” began Hood. “Sometimes we think about it and have great aspirations to do them; however, it is easy for us to find other things to do instead. It is so hard to get motivated and stay motivated. We are all busy with our jobs, our families and our lives in general. We put it off. We will say ‘I’ll start my workout and my healthy diet tomorrow.’ Then we’ll say ‘no, I’ll start that next week’ and so on. I think you might already get the point. So, what these graduates have accomplished is a milestone. Every one of them has overcome some amazing challenges to get here. They all have jobs, they all have families, they all have lives to deal with. They had to set priorities; get motivated and stay motivated; they had to be persistent to do what needed to be done. When they did cross that finish line, they experienced such relief and such joy for themselves to know they did it. Receiving this diploma tonight will be life changing for them. It is my honor to announce the graduates of 2014.”

Joani Purdy left the graduates with their final words of encouragement.

“I just want to tell you all, I am very proud of each and every one of you tonight,” she said. “It can be hard for us sometimes to say goodbye, but we have to move on and we all know you can come back and share your stories. It takes a lot of effort to get to this point. It was an honor to celebrate with you. Congratulations class of 2014!”

Kari Adams can be reached at