What does commencement mean to you?

Hinsdale Central student body President Will Kusak will perform his final duty in that role - and as a Red Devil - serving as an emcee of tonight's commencement ceremony.

The roughly 600-strong class of 2024 had no in-person eighth-grade graduation due to COVID, and embarked on its high school journey split in halves to promote social distancing on campus.

"We were labeled as an 'A day' kid or a 'B day' kid, and that just caused such a stir among students and my friends," Kusak recounted, smiling at the memory. "We had three classes a day and then we were out of school for a day. I look for the humorous in the times of absurdity."

He was elected class president as a sophomore, and again as junior. Holding that post as a senior conferred on him the mantle of student body president.

"You get a lot of experience dealing with different groups of people, just getting diverse viewpoints on everything from class spirit days to senior events," he said. "You meet a lot of people and are often working with administrators, the principal, assistant principals, which I think is super cool and a good skill to have."

Not to mention some conflict resolution. Kusak cited a debate over Homecoming royalty that erupted last year when two girls were crowned instead of the traditional male king and female queen.

"After that happened a lot of people expressed their frustration with the process," he said. "So this year instead of running as individuals, students ran as pairs."

As a student-athlete, the basketball and baseball player said he's been enriched by the friendships cultivated in both the academic and sports arenas.

"Being in a multitude of a different activities and classes has really shaped me into a better person," he said,

A few years ago Kusak would have shrunk from the notion of addressing more than 1,000 people. But he credited his Central education for building up his communication skills.

"There are so many activities and presentations you have in school that really develop you as a speaker," he said.

Asked about a class he found surprisingly engaging, Kusak didn't hesitate.

"Business law honors with Ms. Hoeksema," he replied. "The things we learned in that class, I feel, are very applicable to the real world, a lot very useful skills."

Kusak said he's been advised to keep his remarks brief, and even took notes from the last two commencement speeches to help guide his delivery. The central message he hopes to convey is to maintain a positive attitude.

"Whatever you do, just laugh every once in a while," Kusak said, perhaps channeling role model Matthew McConaughey. "I think that can very beneficial for you and your confidence as a person."

The rising University of Illinois freshman looks forward to studying business and, beyond that, a possible career in investment banking.

"I want to be the best version of myself that I can be," Kusak said, adding, "and not living in my parents' basement."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean