HANCOCK — Hancock High School’s 76 graduating seniors were just days removed from their last assignments when Rhonda Britten gave them a new one: develop self-confidence.
Britten, the host of NBC’s “Starting Over” and a 1978 graduate of Hancock High School, delivered this year’s commencement address Sunday at the Sylvia J. Eskola Auditorium in Hancock Middle School.
At one point, she asked students if they’d felt unconfident. One raised his hand.
“The person who raised his hand is probably the one who’s going to be the most self-confident in five years, because he’s willing to say ‘I need help,’” she said.
For a long time, Britten wasn’t.
When she was a teenager, she witnessed her father kill her mother and then himself. She recovered to graduate with honors from Hancock High School and received a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Minnesota.
But while she was among the top 100 students in the country, she slid into alcohol addiction, and also attempted suicide.
“She looked good, and she did all the right things ... but she wasn’t happy,” she said of herself.
However, she said, she was ultimately able to pull out of her rut and begin again. Now, Britten is three seasons into her position as life coach on “Starting Over,” as well as a best-selling author and founder of the Fearless Living Institute.
It’s great to be back at her hometown, she said.
“No matter how far I get from Hancock, Mich., Hancock, Mich., is my home,” she said.
Britten canvassed her friends in the week before her speech for the most important qualities for a high school graduate. Along with self-confidence, they picked gratitude, passion and a clean slate.
While it’s never too late for a clean slate, Britten said, the end of high school is tailor-made for it.
“You want to keep smart, keep it,” she said. “You want to keep commitment, keep it. You want to keep devotion, keep it. You want to get rid of dumping your girlfriend in a really bad way, you don’t have to keep it.”
Students speaking at the graduation were valedictorian Jacki Anderson, salutatorian Trent Auguston, class vice president Marco Guidotti and class president William Pattison.
“For seven semesters, we couldn’t wait ... but for the last semester, we wished it would last forever,” Pattison said.