How do you say goodbye to the classmates you’ve known all your life?
The question weighed on the minds of speakers Saturday during Black River High School’s 58th commencement ceremony.
“Reach out and high-five the person next to you,” guest speaker Janice Kollar told graduates. “These are the people you started kindergarten and survived freshman year with. Give them a hug. You guys made it.”
Kollar, a former history teacher in the district, spoke to a Class of 2018 that’s amassed $3.2 million in savings toward college between scholarship offers and 836 College Credit Plus hours. Graduates also racked up 2,000 hours of community service.
Sixty-one percent of graduates maintained an average merit roll status throughout their high school years, contributing to a 3.166 class GPA.
Three students accounted for 40 percent of scholarship money offered to the class: valedictorian Jason Wright, National Honor Society member Carrie Cepec, and academic honor diploma recipient Julia Myers.
Wright also leaves Black River as one of the country’s 2,500 National Merit Scholars and has earned a full ride to Ohio State University along with salutatorian Ashley Stroud.
“From kindergarten to this very moment, we’ve all been together 4,656 days,” Wright told a packed BHS gymnasium. “That’s almost 13 years, more than half of our lives, but also not long enough. Can it really be less than 5,000 days we’ve all known each other? Some of our earliest and best memories involve the 100 or so people graduating here today.”
“While sitting at our senior picnic a few weeks ago, it hit me that I didn’t know how to say goodbye,” Stroud told her classmates. “I didn’t know how to start my next chapter. I thought to myself, ‘These are the people I’ve grown up with, laughed with, and the people I mourned with when we lost a friend last March. After a while, I began to think not only of the goodbyes but also of the hellos. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each and every one of you.”
Principal Todd Yoder said the class marches to the beat of its own drum and has a strong distaste for the status quo.
“You all don’t automatically assume that someone being in a position of authority makes them infallible,” he said. “You don’t blindly adhere to people’s instructions just because they’re an authority figure. You can objectively look at both sides of an issue and know life isn’t in black and white. You’re passionate about learning and knowledge liberates one from ignorance.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.