The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Guest Commentary: Average doesn’t have to be ordinary, and being from SH is a privilege


June 8, 2016

Dr. Krystina Tack

Editor’s note: It’s been our practice each year to include an editorial column addressed to graduates, normally written by our staff. This year, for various reasons, that did not happen in last week’s pre-graduation edition. Krystina Tack’s address to the 2016 graduates at this year’s commencement was superior to anything that, frankly, we would have said. She brings the credibility of accomplishment and her roots in Sweet Home to the following remarks. We think they are worthy of attention from everyone in Sweet Home. (If you’d like to view her speech live, take a look at our video presentation of the graduation ceremony at It is at minute 47:00 in the video.)

I am so humbled and grateful to be given this award in a city with so many deserving people, that I would be chosen. Thank you.

It’s a privilege to address the class of 2016. You’ve never heard of me and why would you? We have two very important things in common: We’re educated and we’re from Sweet Home.

So I’ll start with education. For those of you in the top 10 percent of your class and members of the National Honor Society, you guys have worked extra hard and you deserve extra accolades. Good job.

But for you in the other 90 percent, I haven’t forgotten you. In fact, I was with you. I was actually in the middle of my class. I wasn’t in the top 10 percent, not National Honor Society. I was ranked right in the middle.

In science, we would call that the center of the Bell Curve. If you don’t care about statistics, if you want to plot data, in this case it would be the people who were graduating in my class, from those who did scholastically the best, to the total worst, I would have been plotted right in the middle. That’s me – center of the Bell Curve, average high school graduate.

I left Sweet Home High School and I attended Linn-Benton Community College for a couple of years. Actually, there I was on the leading edge of the Bell Curve. I did pretty good.

Then I transferred to Oregon State, where classes were bigger and they got harder, and I went back to where I belonged – the center of the Bell Curve.

But I went on to my master’s degree at Oregon State, and on to my Ph.D. At the University of Texas and wouldn’t you know it, I was again at the center of the Bell Curve. Average. Krysie Tack, average student.

So, people who know me know that I suffer from an overabundance of confidence. How would I get this? I was just an average student.

Well, I’ll tell you (this is why I love science): These are not the same populations. They are not the same pots of academic ability.

In 1997 my high school class was probably about 130 people and I was probably right at 65, if you ranked us.

In 2002, my bachelor’s degree class had about 424 people, and I was probably ranked right in the center, tied even with probably 100 other people. Not a standout.

In my Ph.D. class there were actually seven people and I was ranked third. And that I was actually proud of.

So remember, these are not the same populations. They’re not the same curves. I could march through life and all my educational experiences would be right dead-center of the Bell Curve.

As I said, I’m really proud of that third-place ranking in the Ph.D program.

So I know what you’re thinking: "Great, they’ve got this average person and they gave her a medal. That’s really dumb.”

This is where it gets to the good part.

I’m actually, like you, part of many populations.

I can be ranked and plotted on a bunch of different graphs. I’m a teacher. I’m a prostate cancer researcher. I’m a family member. I’m a friend. I’m a cancer care provider. On any given day I can be what’s considered an outlier on any of those plots – so far to the right that I can’t see average.

Just because you’re average in one thing, one day, does not mean you are average.

That brings me to the second thing that we all have in common: We’re all from Sweet Home. And it’s people in Sweet Home that make this town what it is.

The teachers, they spend their time educating, shaping you and supporting you. They could choose to teach anywhere else. They choose Sweet Home.

The business owners, the people who have donated this very track and field that we’re sitting on, people who have donated their time and money for scholarships for you graduates – they could have donated that money anywhere else. They chose to donate it here, in Sweet Home.

Your parents, your grandparents and your families, they could have put you in school in any other school. But they chose Sweet Home High School.

You and I are the beneficiaries of all of these people.

I travel all the time. I’ve lived in San Antonio (Texas), in Chicago, in London, and even in New Zealand for a while. And I tell people, when they ask, "I’m from Sweet Home, Oregon.”

I can say without hesitation that there are more than a handful of people in this crowd today that have made a larger impact on the world than I have.

Sweet Home’s most generous and successful people have lived as an example that I hope to follow and you should too.

Because my family had a logging business, I know how to work. You can walk around town and see plenty of people in this town who know how to work.

Because I see amazing charity in this city – people don’t give just once a year, I know now that charity is giving your time, supporting a cause, supporting something. Putting your name behind something. Being vocal.

And because you don’t see any of these people receiving this award, I also have learned in Sweet Home the importance of being humble. Because these people are in this audience today – you know who you are – and my impact on the world actually pales in comparison to yours.

So, since Sweet Home is in the top 1 percent of all communities – trust me when I say that this is true, being from Sweet Home does not make you anything negative. It certainly doesn’t make you average, as I once thought it made me.

I have been an average student time and time again, but I do many things that, I’m proud to say, are far from average.

I wish I could say that this is part of me being so highly educated and that going through all that school made me learned so much.

But I’ve learned most about how to impact the world and make a difference from being part of this Sweet Home community.

Class of 2016, be proud of yourselves. Do things to be proud of. Demand more out of the world. And when you can’t find what you need in this world, go out and invent it.

Sweet Home is proud of you today. Be proud of Sweet Home – always.

– Dr. Krystina Tack, a 1997 Sweet Home High School graduate, is director of the medical physics graduate program in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, where she also serves as an assistant professor. She is a published cancer researcher and a John Angus Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.


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