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Spirited seniors celebrate milestone

WORTHINGTON -- "Take my picture, take my picture," implored one soon-to-be Worthington High School (WHS) graduate of her father as two friends urged her to hurry up and take her place in line just prior to the start of the school's 121st commencement exercises.

An anticipatory buzz was nearly palpable among the tightly seated audience as attendees eyed an altered graduation set-up, necessitated by new bleachers. Gauzy bunting in the Class of 2008's colors of red, black and white festooned the stage, which lined the gymnasium's north wall.

Alluding to the seniors' color palette -- red stoles accentuated the black caps and gowns worn by the senior males, who sat en masse opposite the senior females, who were attired in white caps and gowns -- featured speaker and Worthington Middle School teacher Mike Traphagen opined, "Your colors are appropriate, because up to now, your lives have been largely black and white.

"Your parents and teachers have taught you right from wrong and set boundaries for you, but now those boundaries may change and shift into gray--and gray can be confusing."

Mostly, the seniors looked poised and pleased as they took their places during an upbeat "Pomp and Circumstance" played by the underclass band members, conducted by Jon Loy. Upon reaching their chairs, they turned to face the audience, giving eager family members an extra opportunity to shoot more photos.

After words of greeting from WHS principal Scott Backer, one of the three sets of twins in the Class of 2008 -- Jenny and Tom Mammen -- sang in unison an a cappella and tuneful version of the National Anthem they had polished in performances at several local sporting events over the past few years.

District 518 superintendent John Landgaard introduced the seven school board members, one of whom -- Stephen Schnieder -- was able to give his daughter, Sarah, a diploma and a congratulatory hug during his turn at diploma presentation.

Officiants kept the ceremony moving at an efficient pace, with nearly 150 seniors receiving degrees within one hour. Twenty-eight of them wore white cords over their red stoles, signifying having achieved high honors (GPA of 3.5 to 3.749), while 24 grads were adorned with gold cords that marked their highest honors status (GPA of 3.75 to 4.00).

Jessica Weitgenant, vice-president of the senior class, was the first of two student speakers to share her thoughts.

Invoking Fred Rogers of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" fame, Weitgenant exhorted her peers to be competent, caring and compassionate as they move into adulthood.

"Those who are successful make mistakes but continue to learn from them," reminded Weitgenant. "Make-believe and puppet shows are now a thing of the past, but anything can be conquered with the helping hand of our neighbor."

Kyle Fleming reminisced about specific humorous incidents his classmates experienced during their 13 years together, recalling that middle school was the time when the "boys started wondering why girls went to the bathroom three at a time."

"Some of us are wondering why we have to leave (school), and others are wondering why it took so long," joked Fleming.

Exchange students Mirjam Ritter and Yannick Elens, both of Germany, were recognized, and a nice interlude was provided with the 31 senior choir members singing "Place in the World" under the direction of Joseph Osowski.

Nearly all of these spirited seniors threw their caps high at the night's conclusion, and several cans of silly string were sprayed, much to their administrators' chagrin.

But as the new graduates made their way out of the stuffy gym into the pleasant evening air, Traphagen's words may have rung in their minds: "Always keep your moral compass, be yourself, do nice things for others and when you make bad choices, ask for help from those who love and care for you."