Tonight was the big night. Leadership Merced Class 21 graduated after 10 months of classes which concentrated on the life of Merced County. Twenty-one started but three dropped out.

Highlights of the graduation ceremony were the presentation of a $6800 check to the GREAT Program by our class, a slide show of class pictures, and the presentation of graduation certificates. I got to make a brief “speech” about the year. My remarks are included below.

We were each called up, and we received certificates from a line of dignitaries: Merced Mayor Ellie Wooten; the president and CEO of the Merced Chamber of Commerce; a member of U.S. Representative Dennis Cardoza’s staff; a representative from the Merced County Board of Supervisors, a member of California Assemblywoman Barbara Matthew’s staff; and a member of state Senator Jeff Denham’s staff.

I think we all came away from the class feeling empowered and informed, and we want to take the Chamber’s challenge to reinvest what we gained back into the community. Two of us in the class have been added to the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

Leadership Merced Class 21 is now a memory. There will be no more Fridays spent in class, no more retreats, and no more class projects. But I have full faith that something good was launched–good friendships and good service to the community.

My Speech

Well, we did it. We signed away 10 months of our lives. Took the risk. Made the plunge. We usta couldn’t spell leader and now we are one.

We started out as a group of strangers. But after the retreat we became family. Probably more like the La Cosa Nostra, but family nonetheless.

In 10 short months we learned how almonds are processed and cows are milked. (We were udderly impressed.)

We watched beheaded chickens being packaged and came away with a fowl odor on our clothes. We left that tour with undiluted appreciation for the folks who stand all day in a windowless room processing our food.

We enjoyed watching employee of the month Maggie turn red when politicians took potshots at the Sun Star.

We have lived in mortal fear that Michael Herrera would show up at one of our functions in his Speedo.

We learned that cartwheels and tequila don’t mix. That if you stay out too late your roommate could lock you out of your room.

We loved shooting assault rifles and blowing up things. And we fear this may say something about the neurosis of our group. We were impressed that Michael didn’t break a sweat when grenades and gunshots were going off all around him.

We loved the posh transportation that Norm gave us on Law Enforcement Day. We could tell that you were either using the taxpayers’ money responsibly OR giving our class a scared straight experience. Probably because of the cartwheels and tequila or Michael’s Speedo.

We all agreed that we could save the city a lot of money by raising the temperature in the Civic Center. Thankfully, Sally warned us before Future Day that the Council Chambers could get cold. Cold? I’ve been in warmer meat lockers.

We were touched by Tranquility House. Angered that the rape crisis center has to exist. Inspired by the Golden Valley Health Center. Impressed by Valley Community School. There is much to be proud of in our county.

Being the greatest class of all time, we find it difficult to be humble. We embarrassingly realize that we have set the bar SO high that past and future classes will pale by comparison. However, let us humbly say that this has been a great 10 months.

We think we can make a better contribution to our city and county, and we hope it will be a better place because we took the course. We pledge to give back to Merced City and County.

We are grateful that the Chamber of Commerce makes this course possible. It is a good way to create better citizens. This is an experience every community leader should have. Probably not possible, but still a good dream.

I’m thankful for my classmates, and I know I speak for you in saying this. You are all genuinely good people, and I appreciate the strengths and gifts you bring to Merced. I loved the diversity. The humor. The creativity. The intelligence. And the strength. It was fun to watch this group tackle a problem. Truly LEADERSHIP Merced.

A final word. We think a great deal of credit…….or blame…….goes to Meg Kirby. Meg, you have been there every step of the way. Your devotion to this program is evident, and we deeply appreciate it. So please accept our appreciation for your contribution to the wonderful 10 months we just experienced. You are wonderful!