The commencement speech arms race is no joke this year. It takes something pretty special to grab attention during a season when one valedictorian got a nationally televised do-over after his school banned him from coming out in his address, and everyone from President Obama to Matthew McConaughey, Bill Nye, Ed Helms and Stephen Colbert have been lighting up stages.
So, Colin Yost knew he needed to up his game. The valedictorian at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, pulled off one for the ages on Friday, when he ended his inspirational speech by saying, “all you have to do it shake it off.”
He then stepped back and began shaking it as Taylor Swift’s hit came on over the gym’s loudspeakers.
“I’ve always wanted to do a flash mob and I thought graduation would be the perfect place because our class is very cohesive and doesn’t really have a lot of cliques,” Yost told MTV News on Monday morning, while taking a break from his job as an assistant in a cardiovascular operating room at a Portsmouth hospital.
“I was listening to ’Shake It Off’ in the car and I thought that would be great for a flash mob so I talked to a few of my friends about making it happen.” One friend, a stage manager, handled the music, while two others with dance experience helped choreograph the whole thing.
They put together an instructional video for the class that they shared privately on YouTube and then got the administration on board, who said they were fine with the plan as long as Yost and his 230+ classmates could actually pull it off. They even let the seniors use five scheduled graduation rehearsals to get the routine right.
“As we practiced, the energy was just building and everyone was feeling how great it was to work together and send this positive message,” Yost said.
Following his funny, touching speech about embracing your inner nerd and striving for perfection in anything you’re passionate about, Yost started the dance alone, which was (purposely) awkward. “My parents and a lot of other parents didn’t know, so at the end of my speech half were laughing and some where like, ’oh gosh, what is he doing?'”
But then, little by little, the front row joined in, then another row and the looks of confusion and fear turned into laughter and tears from the families as pretty soon the routine turned the class of ’15 into an undulating sea of maroon and white caps and gowns.
Yost, who wants to be a heart surgeon, is headed to Princeton in the fall, where he plans to major in chemical and biological engineering.
And, in case you were wondering. “No, I’ve never taken dance lessons.”