Tuesday, June 19, 2018 Elyria 73°
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A new era begins for area high school graduates

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    The Elyria High School class of 2018 was the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    The Elyria High School class of 2018 walked in the processional at the start of graduation on Wednesday evening, June 6. They were part of the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Graduates from Lorain High School walked in the processional on Tuesday evening, June 5 during their graduation ceremony.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Open Door graduate and valedictorian Hannah Kardar addresses the Open Door graduating class on Thursday, May 31.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Firelands High School graduate, student speaker and student council vice president Abrianna Perry addresses the 2018 Firelands High School during graduation on Friday, May 25.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    One hundred and forty-nine students received diplomas during the graduation ceremony held at the Firelands High School football stadium on Friday evening, May 25. After the ceremony, the students tossed their caps into the air to celebrate.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    Firelands High School graduate and class president Briana Bowyer addresses the 2018 Firelands High School during graduation on Friday, May 25.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    Firelands High School Principal Robert Maver Jr. introduces Firelands High School graduate and student speaker Kassidy Stevens on Friday, May 25.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    The Black River High School class of 2018 graduated on Friday evening, May 26 at Black River High School's gym. The students tossed their hats into the air after their graduation.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    Black River High School graduating senior and Top 10 Scholar Katrina Skala walks into her graduation on Saturday night, May 26.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    Black River High School graduating senior and salutatorian Ashley Stroud speaks to her classmates on Saturday, May 26.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    Black River High School graduating senior and valedictorian Jason Wright speaks to his classmates on Saturday, May 26.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    The Black River High School class of 2018 graduated on Friday evening, May 26 at Black River High School's gym.

    THOMAS FETCENKO / CHRONICLE

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    Columbia High School 2018 valedictorian Jessica Saki addresses her classmates, teachers, and parents during the ninety-four annual commencement ceremony at Columbia High School Friday evening.

    ANNA NORRIS / CHRONICLE

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    Columbia High School 2018 graduate Kaitlynn Krupinski, center, cheers for a fellow class mate as she receives her high school diploma during the ninety-fourth annual commencement ceremony at Columbia High School Friday evening.

    ANNA NORRIS / CHRONICLE

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    Open Door graduate and salutatorian Jing Lin addresses the Open Door graduating class on Thursday, May 31.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Graduates from Open Door listen as their classmates speak during their graduation ceremony on Thursday, May 31.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Avon graduates line up at commencement at Wolstein Center June 2.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Hailey Janos gets her diploma at Avon commencement at Wolstein Center June 2.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Andrew Harvey enters for Avon Lake commencement June 2.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Avon graduates at commencement at Wolstein Center June 2.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Emma Morgan enters for commencement at Avon Lake June 2.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Tyler Bath receives his diploma at the Vermilion High commencement at Vermilion High School June 3.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Jenna Marie Smith is presented as Valedictorian at Vermilion High graduation June 3.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Graduates enter for Vermilion commencement June 3.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    North Ridgeville Principal Thomas Szendrey presents an honorary diploma to the parents of DJ Spar

    JESSE GRABOWSKI / CHRONICLE

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    Lorain High School graduating senior Ivan Barrios smiles as he awaits an honor cord during his graduation ceremony on Tuesday, June 5 at Lorain High School.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Graduates from Lorain High School walked in the processional on Tuesday evening, June 5 during their graduation ceremony.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    The Lorain High School graduating class of 2018 graduated on Tuesday evening, June 5 at Lorain High School.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    The Lorain High School graduating class of 2018 graduated on Tuesday evening, June 5 at Lorain High School.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    The Lorain High School graduating class of 2018 graduated on Tuesday evening, June 5 at Lorain High School.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Lorain High School valedictorian Paul Greer addressed the Lorain High School graduating class on Tuesday, June 5.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Lorain High School graduating senior Dominique Bennett smiles as she awaits an honor cord during her graduation ceremony on Tuesday, June 5 at Lorain High School.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    North Ridgeville Graduates Sarah McElwain (left) and Madison McNamara pose for a picture.

    JESSE GRABOWSKI / CHRONICLE

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    Valedictorian Dylan Mace addresses fellow North Ridgeville graduates Tuesday at the CSU Wolstein Center

    JESSE GRABOWSKI / CHRONICLE

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    Gabriella Galvin waves to family members before comencement starts Tuesday at the Wolstein Center

    JESSE GRABOWSKI / CHRONICLE

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    Elyria High School graduate Diamond Brown addresses the senior class on Wednesday evening, June 6 at Ely Stadium. The Elyria High School class of 2018 was the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Elyria High School graduate Madeline Tobias smiles after receiving her diploma and shaking the hand of Superintendent Thomas Jama on Wednesday evening, June 6 at Ely Stadium. The Elyria High School class of 2018 was the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    The Elyria High School class of 2018 celebrates after receiving their diplomas on Wednesday evening, June 6. They were part of the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Elyria High School graduate Juliann Dodd hugs Elyria School Board member Michael Gebhardt on Wednesday evening, June 6 at Ely Stadium after receiving her diploma. The Elyria High School class of 2018 was the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Elyria High School graduate Dontae Beckett smiles after receiving his diploma on Wednesday evening, June 6 at Ely Stadium. The Elyria High School class of 2018 was the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Elyria High School graduate Elyssia Sanabria celebrates after graduating on Wednesday evening, June 6 at Ely Stadium. The Elyria High School class of 2018 was the last class to graduate at the old Ely Stadium.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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Check out links to graduation photo galleries a the bottom of this story.  

Elyria High School

ELYRIA — In both Elyria and beyond, students who graduated this year made history by becoming activists in the face of tragedy and leaders ready to show the world they can step into adulthood.

More than 455 graduates completed their education at Elyria High School this year, a tough school year marked by painful lows and amazing highs. With Wednesday’s ceremony taking place for the final time in the original Ely Stadium — just a stone’s throw away from where the new athletic complex is going up — commencement was the perfect time for reflection on the class of 2018.

Speaker Diamond Brown said the class was full of successful and intelligent people, so diverse that the students used their best qualities to form an alliance instead of tearing each other apart.

“This year has been a very difficult time with the news of the Parkland shooting that shocked and horrified,” she said. “But we didn’t stand for it. This class participated and even was a part of planning the walkout. We supported fellow students in a time of need to show we will not stand to be victims. Acts likes these express just how important in the community coordination can be. No matter how different we are, from supporting the wrestling team to opening night, our differences do not divide us.”

Students face many frustrations in life, Brown said. This includes high standards to have “the clearest skin, the nicest body and be a perfect role mode.”

“But what I found about my class is we don’t live up to these expectations for the sake of society,” she said, “We embrace what makes us different and unique; each of us struggles with different things from mental illness to peer pressure, but what we don’t do is give up.”

Brown’s speech was a highlight of the night, with students cheering as she took to the podium.

Elyria High Principal Tim Brown said he loved that he knew so many of this year’s graduates for so many years. To see how they have grown and changed over the years has been incredible, he said.

In his speech to the graduating class, he thanked those students for being a part of his story and for allowing him to be a part of theirs.

For this next chapter of their lives, his advice to them was simple: “Live the story you want for yourself.”

“I encourage you to keep your eyes open, mind sharp and don’t be afraid to take chances,” he said.

If that fails, they can always summon their inner superhero and “be the Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Black Panther or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle of your story,” he said.

Brown said the class of 2018 has a lot of accomplishments to turn the page in their stories.

  •  61 seniors graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average or higher.
  •  Two students took and completed the senior project.
  •  75 students earned the coveted Scholastic E and graduated with a 3.75 GPA or higher.
  •  17 seniors received associate of arts degrees from Lorain County Community College before graduating from high school.
  •  49 students earned the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence.
  •  55 seniors received an honors diploma.
  •  64 seniors are members of the National Honors Society.
  •  One senior is a member of National Technical Honor Society.
  •  27 seniors are enlisting in the U.S. military.
  •  278 seniors, or 60 percent, received merit, honor or high honor roll recognition this school year.
  •  The class of 2018 has received more than $2.5 million in scholarships to colleges and universities.

Superintendent Tom Jama drew parallels in his address, comparing the graduates to greats like Walt Disney and Vincent Van Gogh.

Many hugely successful people didn’t look to luck or having a trouble-free life to be remarkable. Instead, “they found it within themselves to rise up and keep going,” he said.

His final words went back to the historic nature of the day as he looked at the final graduating class to stand on the nearly 92-year-old field.

“You are history-makers,” he said. “We look forward to watching you and the great accomplishments you are going to make.”

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North Ridgeville High School

CLEVELAND — North Ridgeville High School class of 2018 celebrated its highs and lows Tuesday night at commencement, including honoring the parents of classmate Daniel “DJ” Spar Jr.

DJ, 14, died in September 2014. He was a freshman at North Ridgeville High School at the time and would have graduated with the class of 2018. Class president Nathan Waugaman commented during his farewell speech about how much his friend was missed at the ceremony.

“I want to take a second … to remember our friend, DJ,” Waugaman said. “It feels weird not seeing you out there, bud, and not being able to look forward to talking with you on Xbox tonight and get a few games in. And I really hope you’re looking down on all of us tonight. (We) miss you, buddy.”

DJ’s parents, Daniel and Mercedes, accepted an honorary diploma and tassels from high school Principal Thomas Szendrey on their son’s behalf.

Valedictorian Dylan Mace recounted what brought his classmates together — from struggling through algebra and English, to struggling with only a couple bathrooms available throughout the building — connecting the class as they continue their individual journeys.

“After tonight, we’ll all head in different directions — college, trade school or working right away,” Mace said. “We may all be on different paths, but we’re all connected at the roots. Together we will always be the North Ridgeville High School class of 2018.”

Mace made several suggestions to his classmates before they make their way down different paths. He told the class to do what they love — advice he received as a kid from his mother — choosing a career they are excited to go to each day. He suggested they find their purpose, a quote he’d worn on a bracelet for the past two years, and to go do something remarkable.

Salutatorian Eric Fox reminded graduates that high school is more than just English and algebra. In Fox’s last class, on his last day, AP Calculus teacher William Majcher told students high school isn’t about the subjects learned, but the work ethic and perseverance gained through the experience.

“When I heard that, I immediately forgot every piece of information I had learned in high school,” Fox said. “I encourage all of you, my classmates, and take those life lessons you have learned and skills you have developed and leave here today and make your mark on the world.”

After the diplomas were handed out, to cheers from parents and friends in the crowd, Waugaman recognized the more than 200 students planning to attend college next year, and the approximately 17 who will join the military after graduation.

He closed the ceremony, thanking his class for the past four years.

“Our class, we may not have always seen eye to eye with each other,” Waugaman said. “But I really feel that (many) of you out there, I will miss you next year, I know a lot of us will miss you next year. It’s been fun for the last four years and (I) will hate not being able to see you guys these next few years until our next reunion. But thank you all for everything, class of 2018. We did it.”

***

Lorain High School

LORAIN — The students leaving Lorain High School at the end of this year also want to leave a legacy.

At the school’s commencement Tuesday night, salutatorian Evelyn Williams said a legacy isn’t about what people leave behind but about how people are remembered once they’re gone.

“Generally when people think of the legacies of others, they think about the major achievements in their lifetime or the material possessions they are able to afford,” she said. “It seems to me that no one ever seems to take into consideration the things you can’t measure or hold in your hand, the things about who we are as human beings.”

Principal Robin Hopkins said legacy was the theme decided on by the senior committee, and she is honored by the two years she got to spend with the students as she joined the district shortly before the 2016-17 school year.

“I am honored because you are kind, fun and fearless,” she said. “Your kindness is emulated in how you treat others. You are fearless because you are here. As you move forward and begin this next phase of your life, I’d like you to think about who you were.”

She reminded the students that they have an amazing future ahead of them, but they need to work hard every day to make that happen — they can’t take days off.

Valedictorian Paul Greer said he believes the legacy being left behind by the class, one of leadership, integrity and greatness, will continue to grow while still representing who they are.

“This is the home of the Titans, and we can all agree those are more than just words,” he said. “Sure we might not be Titans in Greek mythology but who said we can’t get there in the future? After we move forward all of our achievements will be remembered for years to come.”

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Wellington High School

WELLINGTON — Wellington’s 2018 graduates took time during their commencement ceremony Sunday to honor a classmate who did not make it to graduation.

Andrew “Drew” Guyer, 13, died unexpectedly of heart complications in December 2013. He was a student at Wellington’s McCormick Middle School at the time and would have graduated from the high school this year. Members of the class presented his parents, Tom Jr. and Brandi Guyer, with an honorary diploma, and valedictorian Faith Alley recognized him in her speech. To illustrate Andrew’s impact, she shared when, during spirit week sophomore year, someone in the class suggested they wear blue in Andrew’s memory, instead of the theme day’s red, and she said she’d never seen so many students participate before.

“I feel like we know each other as family know each other,” she said. “We have truly stuck to the quote ‘family over everything.’ And speaking of that quote, Drew brought this class together in ways that I did not think were possible. … Drew really did leave his mark here.”

After commencement, graduates gathered outside the school and released blue balloons in Andrew’s memory.

“One fact stands taller than the rest, we have created memories and relationships that will last a lifetime,” Alley said. “When I talk to my friends from other schools, none of them can relate to the relationship that this class has. … Our class is very close.”

Senior class president Ezra Ohly also called the class a family, recognizing commencement would be the last time they were altogether, but that the ties they had with one another would continue on.

“Each ones of our lives have intersected at some point, and for better or for worse, we are bonded for life,” Ohly said.

In Lorain County Joint Vocational School honor student Sarah Park’s speech, she said high school is not the end for building those lifelong bonds.

“High school is not the best time of our lives,” Park said. “If you want to sit around and do nothing for the rest of your life, then maybe high school will be the best four years of your life. But for most of us, we have much greater things ahead of us. … We are all about to start or even continue our journey into rewarding careers. We will continue to form lifelong friendships and relationships in the coming years and hopefully find the people we want to spend the rest of our lives with.”

She urged her classmates to not let the past define their future successes. As two-thirds of the class will go on to two-year or four-year colleges and six graduates will enter the military, high school is just the beginning for the class of 2018.

Salutatorian Kaitlyn Garrett agreed there was more to come for the graduates — including chances to build relationships and be better friends and classmates. She apologized for seemingly failing at this during her time at Wellington High School, recounting the countless times she avoided talking to peers and teachers throughout those four years.

After her apology, to her class’s surprise, Garrett identified herself as the moderator for an anonymous Twitter account within the school. Daily Recognitions, @DukesCare, has tweeted a compliment for each student in the school since September 2016. From highlighting charming personalities and persistence to athletic ability, Garrett said she started the account to “do the right thing,” but said it wasn’t always easy to keep it going because she was doing it for the wrong reasons.

“My problem was the intention behind the good deeds,” Garrett said. “I was doing the right thing so I could be better than everyone else, so I could have a happy conscience and be able to brag about being some kind of saint. When it came down to it, I wasn’t being myself. The girl who created that account with the sole reason to make others happy was gone.”

Moving forward, she urged classmates to do the right things for the right reasons, and bring joy and love into the world.

“I urge you, in your next walks of life to do the right thing, but for the right reasons,” she said. “It’s easy to believe that doing the right thing will always bring a reward to yourself, but that’s not true. But if you’re doing it for the right reasons, that shouldn’t bother you. Bring joy to the world for the lone reason that joy is good. The universe doesn’t owe you anything, but you owe it your love.”

Lake Ridge Academy

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — When asked to describe themselves in eighth grade, the Lake Ridge Academy class of 2018 deemed themselves “annoying.” But, English teacher Ronald Davis described the class as “annoyingly intelligent,” highlighting the unique strengths and personalities of each senior at the school’s 49th commencement ceremony Saturday.

The school graduated 50 seniors, with four students having attended the private school for the past 13 years, while others enrolled during middle or high school.

Student-chosen speakers Ian Ashby and Madeline Kuentz reminded classmates of when they dubbed themselves “annoying,” and why they all chose to do so.

“Without much deliberation, a few of us spoke out at the same time,” Kuentz said.

“We all agreed on the same word, annoying,” Ashby said. “Apparently past classes have given (answers) like smart, or athletic …”

Kuentz added, “It was pretty annoying of us to say that, (but) how could we decide on one word to describe our class as a whole? We’re all so different and unique.”

Faculty speaker Davis did the same, reminiscing about his shared love of sci-fi and obscure references made in his English class, alongside inspiring art projects made by members of the graduating class.

Davis’ speech reminded the class that going forward it was OK to fail — a sentiment shared by valedictorian Elizabeth Coble’s address.

“College will be a world of opportunity, so don’t be afraid to try something new, even if you suck at it,” Coble said.

Salutatorian Anjali Prabjakaran recognized how what some may see as shortcomings for the class were actually their strengths.

“I’ll be the first to recognize our shortcomings,” Prabjakaran said. “But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that we have just as many, if not more, strengths.”

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Avon Lake High School

AVON LAKE — Avon Lake schools held its 93rd commencement ceremony Saturday, graduating 281 seniors at its stadium.

This year’s class boasts more than $24 million in offered scholarships, with about 85 percent of the class planning on attending a two-year or four-year college. Six percent — about 16 students — plan to go into the armed forces.

The evening’s speakers focused on the journey the class had taken to make it to commencement, with senior speaker Mary Ross likening the journey her class had taken to traveling through a fog.

“About a month ago, I was driving with a friend,” Ross explained. “It was a particularly foggy day and I made a comment about how cool it would be to be fog. My friend replied, ‘You say you want to be fog, but my entire life is full of fog.’ That statement really resonated with me and still does … I’ve realized that I’ve been living in a life of fog for the last four years — or at least for most of it. I had no idea who I was and I was even more lost in what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in my life.”

She went on to explain that everyone in the class had experienced fog during high school, be it lack of understanding class material or understanding themselves.

“I’m saying this because life having fog applies to all of us in some way, shape or form,” she said. “I was caught in a fog concerning who I was and what I wanted to do … Fog is more than just lack of direction or struggling to find a purpose, it’s about identifying who you are as a person.”

Valedictorian Marisa Barilla reminded attendees how high school had shaped them, helping them find that purpose and person they are today.

“High school has tested our limits mentally, physically and emotionally, but today we prove that we didn’t let any obstacles in the past four years stop us from becoming the amazing people we are today,” Barilla said.

Four years ago, she said, the class of 2018 entered the halls of Avon Lake High School as scared freshman, now they leave as mature adults — but the journey isn’t over yet.

“We aren’t the immature kids that we were when we started at this high school; however, we still have a long way to go,” Barilla said. “For those of us going to college, we will be right back in the same position as we were four years ago. But this time, we have more control over our paths — for the first time, we’re going to school for ourselves, and that is not to be taken lightly. The world is our oyster, and it’s our time to shine.”

Class president Leslie Bastulli agreed.

“We entered the halls of Avon Lake at age 14, completely clueless about what to expect in high school,” Bastulli said. “As we walked out on the last day, at 18, the school didn’t feel so scary anymore, and we have a bit more of a clue about who we are — well, most of us, anyways.”

“This is your high school graduation, all of you sitting before me or behind me, made it,” Bastulli said. “You either worked yourself too much or too little, but you’re still sitting here today. And that’s fantastic. However, we must remember what we learned, not only academically but personally. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.’”

As the class of 2018 spreads out in 281 directions, Ross reminded them they always will have Avon Lake to call home.

“High school’s been foggy, but it’s OK,” Ross said. “Just remember there’s a light in Avon Lake for all those who want it and need it. Never forget, together Shoremen, forever Shoremen.”

***

Avon High School

CLEVELAND — Nearly 330 graduates of Avon High School took one last moment to reflect before beginning the next chapter of their lives at commencement Saturday afternoon at the Wolstein Center on the campus of Cleveland State University.

Senior class president Ashley Granitto encouraged her classmates to remember the ups and downs they experienced over the past decade or more.

“Collectively, we’ve conquered all of childhood’s ups and downs together. We’ve been each other’s first classmates, first teammates, first best friends,” Granitto said. “We’ve also been each other’s first competitors, first enemies, first breakups. We’ve been there for one another during the wins and losses alike.”

Saturday brought the end of a chapter in the lives of the seniors to a close, Granitto said.

“Whether you like it or not, today is the final day we’ll share this collective history,” she said. “Starting tomorrow, we’re no longer going to be part of each other’s ‘everydays.’ Beginning June 3, 2018, many of us are simply going to become part of each other’s ‘befores.’”

Avon High School Principal Kristina Dobos Buller challenged the class by first reminding them of the “Greatest Generation” that survived The Great Depression, battled in World War II and created the infrastructure of the nation. Dobos Buller pointed out that generation did the most after starting with the least.

“You, the class of 2018, has had absolutely the most,” Dobos Buller said. “You have been given more than any other generation before you. What will you do? How will you be defined?”

Superintendent Michael Laub, the school board and school staff presented the 329 graduates their diplomas.

Senior class speaker Yasmeen Barkley compared the lives of the graduates to those in American filmmaker John Hughes movies, such as “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” or “The Breakfast Club.” Barkley said Hughes told the stories of adolescents who were misguided and uncertain of their future and showed that “everyone has a story and has a future.”

“Life may not be a John Hughes film, but it is a story,” Barkley said. “It’s your story. Embrace what lies ahead, face whatever that comes with a smile on your face and love all the work in your heart; prepare for your future so you can love every second of it.”

***

Clearview High School

LORAIN — Clearview High School seniors celebrated the end of a 13-year journey last night at the Lorain Palace Theatre, with the school gaining 128 alumni at the district’s 88th commencement ceremony.

Student speaker Alexandria Moore spoke to her classmates about three keywords — choice, chance and change. She told them of the choice they made to be on that stage, receiving their diploma — rising above statistics and generational stereotypes to do so. And of the chances that had happened at Clearview — and the possibilities she never thought would happen during their journey together.

“Before I walked into the brick walls of CHS, I never really knew what chances meant,” she said. “… And I never thought some of the things that happened to me would ever occur. The possibility of me losing a longtime friend shook my freshman core, but it happened. The possibility of leaving school with newfound friends never crossed my mind, but it happened. The possibility of me standing before you with a commencement speech in my hand was something I could only long for, but it’s happening. And the possibility and the chance of me standing before you, peers I’ve known for 13 years, receiving a diploma tonight makes me want to shed a few tears, but it’s about to happen.”

High school Principal Noeleen Rothacker reminded seniors of their first day of school as excited kindergartners all those years ago. Not much has changed, she said — parents are still snapping pictures and wishing their children well, and seniors are surrounded by the friends — but the excitement now is for a different reason.

“The difference is 13 years ago, while you were excited, you had no idea of the magnitude of the journey you were about to embark on,” Rothacker said. “You had no idea that after kindergarten there would be first grade, then second grade and so on and so on. You were just excited to be in kindergarten. The biggest difference is today (you) are standing on the brink of your future. The first day of the rest of your life.”

And at the culmination of that 13-year journey, she offered students one last piece of advice.

“The greatest way to predict your future is to invent it,” she said.

Rothacker recognized the top 10 students in the class, including salutatorian Aja Cyran, who graduated with associate degree from Lorain County Community College as well as her high school diploma; and valedictorian Melanie Walend, who received a $1,000 scholarship for her academic achievement. Five students going into the military also were recognized, along with any active-duty or veteran service members in the audience.

Superintendent Jerome Davis congratulated the class for their achievements and the role their parents played in their accomplishments.

“Great things have been accomplished over the last 13 years, and greater is to come,” he said.

Moore said her love for Clearview and the class of 2018 will never fade and urged her classmates to make a difference in the world around them.

“You never know what someone is going through, so make the choice to make the change and be kind,” she said. “Leaving a mark on this world is something we all want to do and it all starts with you … The truth is we all need to find a compelling reason to change — change you life, change the system, change your thoughts. Because everything that happens to you after you leave this stage tonight is a result of how you react to it in the first place. Make the change to make a difference in this world.”

***

Amherst Marion L. Steele High School

CLEVELAND — The Marion L. Steele High School class of 2018 stands ready to make waves in the world.

The Amherst school’s class of more than 300 held its commencement ceremony at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland on Saturday, with several of the afternoon’s speakers recognizing the start of the senior’s new journey.

“I ask you not to remember this day as the end of a journey, but a new beginning,” class president Nathan Moore said. “As if you’ve just got to the blocks, with every single one of us stepping up to take their mark. An entire pool lays ahead of us, and we stand ready to make our waves in the world.”

Valedictorian Andrew Vontell’s speech reminded graduates that their grades or ACT score do not define them or their success.

“We must remind ourselves that these numbers are relative and don’t actually define who we are. For example, our high school GPA or ACT scores have been significant, but once we leave here today it will be replaced with different measures.”

Madison Murphy, Lorain County Joint Vocational School’s top scholar recognized the different paths classmates had chosen, including going to the JVS like she did her freshman year. And while the paths graduates take are important, she said, what matters most is the work the class of 2018 is willing to put in.

“I encourage you all to find your path and remember you can always turn and make a new one,” Murphy said. “We’re all embarking on new adventures, whether that entails college, the workforce or the military. Yes, the path you choose is important, but not as important as the people you are walking with and how hard you are willing to work to achieve your dreams.”

Principal Michael May recognized the 11 graduates going into the military. He also recognized the nine graduates inducted into the school’s academic hall of fame: Pierce Barnes, Abigail Hershner, Abigail Jones, Emma Macartney, Nathan Moore, Hannah Parson, Ryan Rigsby, Rachel Veneman and Andrew Vontell. May said 214 students earned a total of 3,571 college credits from Lorain County Community College — with Tanner Raupach and Kayla Madden earning associate of art degrees and Ian Seng earning an applied science degree.

Moore reminded those gathered that the Steele community and experiences do not define graduate’s continued success, or the waves they will make in the world.

“Whether or not you reflect positively on your experience at Amherst, you should recognize everything that Amherst has done for you and its impact on who you’ve become,” Moore said. “While it’s important to honor this wonderful community, these people and these experiences do not determine where you go and what you do. … No matter what you have experienced in the past 18 years of your life, take this day as a fresh start … Enjoy and have fun and, most importantly, dive off the blocks with absolute confidence and certainty … as every single one of us begins to make our own waves.”

***

Brookside High School

LORAIN — The Brookside High School class of 2018 went out in style Saturday at Lorain’s Palace Theater.

Superintendent Michael Cook made his commencement address memorable for students by putting three pieces of candy under their seats, each one carrying a special meaning.

“Every year I begin thinking about what I can share with the seniors and try to write my speeches from scratch every year with something that fits the kids that I have grown to know,” he said. “Honestly, since I don’t teach kids every day anymore I know I have about seven minutes to possibly get something in their brains.”

Cook said he wanted to leave students with three basic ideas. The candy was the visual to drive home his points.

First, don’t forget the Golden Rule, he said; telling students not to forgot the old adage of doing unto others as they would like others to do to them. A yellow jelly bean — buttered popcorn and not lemon — symbolized that point.

Second, wake up early and show up, Cook said. He read a Boston Globe article years ago that said 80 percent of life’s successes is all about simply showing up. A fried egg gummy treat symbolized waking up and preparing for the day with a good breakfast.

Third, Cook said the kids should learn now to save money and spend wisely. A candy coin was the final candy.

“I think in today’s society it is really tough to save money because we are all about instant gratification, and I’m no different,” he said. “But I think if you can try to focus on saving some money, as you get paid putting it away and holding out until you save enough for what you really want, I think things will be alright for you.”

The advice was the kind a father would give to his son.

Maybe graduate Cade Cook knows a little something about that as he is Cook’s second child to graduate from Brookside. When the moment came to hand out diplomas, Cook handed his son the honor followed by a long hug.

The school’s valedictorian and salutatorian, Baylee Min and Sarah Weekman, spoke about the cherished times they had at Brookside and the memories still to be made as adults.

“Through the years we have been through common core, AIR testing, proficiency tests and ACT testing,” Min said. “We have seen it all. For 13 years, we have put in hard work and it is finally going to pay off.”

“We all have an image created in our minds of our individual, perfect futures,” Weekman said during her address. “… We are constantly thinking, thinking about how we can reach this image we have painted for ourselves, but we don’t want to have to close our eyes to see it. We want to live the ideal life. Whether that image is graduating college, starting a family, going into the military, starting a trade, traveling or a combination of all of them there are steps to achieving that end goal although it may seem challenging right now.”

Three seniors — Justin Below, David Chambers and Madissyn Valdez — missed graduation to compete in the Division II regional track and field meet at Lexington High School. Chambers and Valdez advanced to the state competition and achieved school record.

***

Keystone High School

ELYRIA — Halle Paris’ dad didn’t get to see her graduate from Keystone High School on Friday night, but he had backup there in his place.

As the class of 2018 left First Baptist Church of Elyria to release balloons, Paris was greeted by several state troopers who had worked with her father, Mike Paris Sr., before he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2012.

Halle Paris immediately started crying upon seeing the officers, and her mother, Jean, said it meant the world to the family that they were there.

“Halle had posted on Facebook about how sad she was that her dad wasn’t going to be here for this moment,” she said. “But these guys came out to support her because it’s a brotherhood. They’ve never forgotten us.”

Jean Paris said her daughter is looking to work with the Ohio Highway Patrol dispatch before becoming a trooper herself.

Valedictorian Luke Peters wished his fellow graduates congratulations and said on that day they began the rest of their lives.

“Although I can’t help but point out that many of us just finished 12 years of school to go to school for another four plus years,” he said. “Only this next school is the platinum edition, so it only costs tens of thousands of dollars more than this edition.”

Peters said other students would be entering the workforce or joining the military but graduation day was meant for all of them to reflect who they were and envision who they hoped to be tomorrow.

“While it’s easy to remember our acne-riddened faces and poor fashion choices from freshman year, it can be hard to imagine what’s in the future,” he said. “So the future isn’t in our control. But we are in control of ourselves and the choices we make moving forward.”

Keystone Superintendent Franco Gallo also expressed the importance of the choices the graduating seniors will make in their lives ahead, and he hopes they will never give up.

“Tonight is an important memorable stepping stone in your life, but more than that it symbolizes the importance of your future choices,” he said. “My challenge to you is that this isn’t the high point in your life. I have seen too many students peak in high school. While this is a very important milestone, it should be just one step on your way.”

***

Elyria Catholic

ELYRIA — Joyce Stupka did not want to attend Elyria Catholic High School.

“One ordinary day my dad called me into the garage and he said, ‘Joyce, you’re going Elyria Catholic,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, no. I’m not going to some random school where I know no one.’ And he said, ‘Yes you are.’ Since I’m standing in front of all of you here today it’s pretty obvious who won that argument.”

At the school’s commencement ceremony Friday night, Stupka, who was the salutatorian for the class of 2018, said what wasn’t obvious to her was how much she would enjoy the four years she spent at the school.

“Being slightly forced to attend Elyria Catholic has been one of my dad’s best suggestions as I have become part of a community that is based on faith and the willingness to take on new challenges,” she said.

Stupka said she now knows her father was right because it forced her to try something new and allowed her to become a part of the school’s community.

Valedictorian Elizabeth Ziegelmeyer took time to reflect on the class’s time at the school, saying as freshmen they came to Elyria Catholic with set expectations of how they wanted their high school experience to be.

“As seniors many of you couldn’t wait for this day to come and since August have been ready to get on with your lives,” she said. “As senior year flew by I hope you all remembered to cherish your last year of high school. A lot of lasts have happened.”

Elyria Catholic President Amy Butler said alumni are important to the school, which includes the 108 graduates in the class of 2018 as they accepted their diplomas.

“Your accomplishments over the last four years are too numerous to mention, and because of you Elyria Catholic is a better place and now you must go out and make the world a better place,” she said.

***

Firelands High School

With a turn of their tassels, 149 teenagers joined Firelands Schools’ alumni ranks at the school’s 64th annual commencement ceremony at the high school stadium Friday.

High school Principal Robert Maver Jr. welcomed the class of 2018 to the ceremony, reminding them that commencement is not the end, but the beginning — a sentiment shared by many of the night’s speakers.

“Tonight is not the end, it is the beginning of the next part of your journey into adulthood, with college, career and family all in your bright futures,” Maver said.

He recognized the students graduating with honors diplomas, as well as those graduating summa cum laude, magna cum laude or cum laude. According to Maver, this graduating class earned $2.16 million toward a college education, through scholarships and the completion of 1,412 college credits through Lorain County Community College.

“Our senior scholarship winners have been offered just over $1.93 million in scholarship money, which is an all-time high for Firelands High School graduating class,” he said.

Senior class president Briana Bowyer also highlighted the class’s successes while noting the obstacles they have overcome to get there — including breaking in Maver his first year as principal.

“While we all have happy memories, as any graduating class would have, I think we can all agree, what sets us apart might be the obstacles we faced,” Bowyer said. “In ninth grade, at the beginning of our journey, we were faced with the challenge of building a connection with our then-new principal Mr. Maver … He grew up with us, and I’m sure he will agree that our class helped shape him into the great principal he is today.”

In a nod to Maver’s reported failings as a photographer for the school’s social media, the class presented him with a camera tripod.

“We hope to follow the twitter activity and to be able to recognize who’s actually in it,” Bowyer laughed.

As the class part ways — some heading into the military, others to jobs or colleges — Bowyer said the graduates will continue to make their community proud.

“As we head in different directions, expanding our knowledge of the world, we will carry a piece of Firelands with us,” she said. “We will take the lessons we have learned and our commitment to serve and help others and make our Firelands community proud.”

Kassidy Stevens, a senior who was selected to speak, agreed that there was so much to be proud of as the class continues on the next leg of their individual journeys.

“Graduation is a way of celebrating what we have accomplished,” Stevens said. “For each of us, those accomplishments might be different. Maybe it’s the friends we have made, the awards we have won, the personal records we have beaten and the experiences that have brought us closer to our peers and ultimately to ourselves.”

Superintendent Mike Von Gunten encouraged the class to embrace life’s challenges as they move into their new paths.

“Class of 2018, I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities you know will not be easy,” he said. “As life’s rewards and successes come not at the end but overcoming the obstacles and challenges along the way.”

Graduate Abrianna Perry, who also was selected to speak, agreed and implored attendees to never settle or have regrets.

She reflected on a “peaceful, profound” moment, when she found a bracelet with the quote “I am what I choose to become” on it — and she reminded the Firelands class of 2018 the importance of those words.

“This profound moment made me realize that each person has the ability to change their life path, regardless of past mistakes, expectations from parents, friends, coaches or teachers,” Perry said. “No matter who you are, or what your background is, you have the power to choose your future.”

***

Columbia High School

COLUMBIA — The parents of the 89 members of the Columbia High School class of 2018 probably know best just how many times their teenage sons and daughters uttered words of annoyance because of early morning classes, late nights of studying or final exams.

After all, graduation is 13 years in the making and who hasn’t approached the milestone wishing it would just be over.

But Friday night, under the lights of the football stadium for an outdoor ceremony, few students had time to think about how much they wished high school was over. Instead, student speakers, among the many graduates who are embarking into adulthood with one accomplishment behind them, spoke about all the things they would miss about Columbia High.

“It really hit me at practice just how much I am going to miss it here,” said Julia Vozar, this year’s salutatorian. “We always joked that it’s so small — two hallways and one bathroom stall that works, but that it doesn’t matter because it’s the people that make it special here.”

Vozar may have been the first speaker to acknowledge just how much her high school years meant to her, but she wasn’t the last.

In the last four years, freshman new to the West River Road school grew into seniors about to step into the next chapter of their lives.

“The end of high school is truly when life begins,” said senior class president Allison Bouscher.

She offered these words to her fellow graduates: “Stop wishing for the next chapter of your life to go faster,” she said.

The night also included a tribute and recognition of the class of 1968. Dozens of alums sat on the football field a stone’s throw for their alma mater. Fifty years ago the class of 1968 earned a diploma, but on Friday they received a second honorary diploma to celebrate their time as “forever Raiders.”

Don Hershey received his diploma from his nephews, Mitchell and Jeffery Hershey, who left their seats to hand him the certificate.

Columbia Superintendent Graig Bansek said he knows the feeling of wanting to get on with the business of adulthood well.

“I know at times I was so anxious for the destination that I couldn’t appreciate the journey,” he said. “But as I grew older and wiser, I learned it was the journey that was important and not the destination.”

In taking these next steps in their lives, the Columbia class of 2018 has some very impressive numbers to back them. The overall grade-point average of the graduating class is 3.55, 44 students are receiving academic scholarship to a college or university and taking with them a possible $378,000 the first year and $1.192 million over the next four years. It is the largest scholarship haul Bansek said he has ever announced.

Twenty-eight students graduated with honors, 16 completed requirements from the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, 51 have a 3.5 GPA or higher, 76 percent will attend a college, university or vocational program and seven will be first-generation college students.

Those reasons and more are why Jessica Saki, this year’s class valedictorian, said she won’t forget he time at Columbia High. She hopes her classmates won’t either.

“Cherish the times you had here,” she said. “… and remember you are a Columbia Raider forever.”



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