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Composing their futures

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Red, black and white balloons settle in front of the graduating Class of 2011 at the conclusion of the 124th Commencement ceremonies Friday night at the Worthington High School.

WORTHINGTON -- On a rainy but warm Friday night, a comfortably air-conditioned Worthington High School (WHS) gymnasium was the site of the school's 124th commencement ceremony, at which 137 seniors crossed the stage and bid a fond farewell to their high school careers before a standing-room-only audience.

"We have all become composers of our own individual symphonies, and as this movement ends, a new one will surely begin," said Brandon Berger, the first of three speakers from the Class of 2011 and one of 18 students graduating with highest honors (GPA of 3.75 to 4.000). Seventeen more earned high honors (GPA of 3.5 to 3.749).

With a backdrop of bunting, blooms and balloons, the seniors expediently took their places as the underclass members of the WHS concert band, directed by Jon Loy, accompanied them with the familiar strains of "Pomp and Circumstance."

Thereafter, the senior members of the WHS concert choir delivered a smooth rendition of the National Anthem; later, guided by director Kerry Johnson, they sang "For Good" from the musical "Wicked."

"I truly believe all of you are well prepared to take on any challenges that may cross your paths," said WHS principal Paul Karelis in his introductory remarks.

A lighthearted mood generally prevailed during the course of the 90-minute ceremony.

WHS physical education and health teacher Brad Grimmius, selected by the seniors as guest speaker, added to the humor.

"I've got my wedding ring on, and I've told my wife I wear it for special occasions only," quipped Grimmius.

"You are future leaders of our community, and all of this is being celebrated for you today," he continued.

Grimmius further exhorted the students to "choose to be great," remember that each graduate has "priceless" self-worth, know that failure is ok and view their high school diplomas not as the finish line but as the starting line.

"College may not be for everyone, but lifelong learning is," said Grimmius. "Your life is an exercise in trial and error."

Karelis recognized Crailsheim exchange student David Etzel, noting Etzel had maintained an active schedule over the year, including involvement in marching band, football, tennis and National Honor Society.

Before introducing the seven District 518 school board members who were to present the diplomas, Superintendent John Landgaard offered, "Now you'll walk the hallways of life, and I have one suggestion for you when you're making choices.

"Ask yourself one question: is it something my parents, grandparents and friends would approve of? If you use that as your guiding light, the decisions you make will be good ones."

Landgaard and District 518 board member Lori Dudley each had personal stakes in the ceremony, with Landgaard giving his daughter Cassie a warm hug after moving her mortarboard's tassel and Dudley doing the same with her own daughter, Ellen, after handing her a diploma.

"It's a little more close to the heart this year," admitted Landgaard prior to the ceremony.

Individual responsibility, a team spirit and awareness that life has its ups and downs were themes stressed in the students' speeches, all flawlessly delivered by the three high honors graduates.

"Looking around at everyone in this gym, no two people took the same path to get to this point in our lives," observed Berger. "We are very blessed to have a school that prides itself on its range of activities and takes both good and bad situations to point us in the right direction."

Senior class president Nicole Ektnitphong suggested, "We have all shown courage in our individual ways, and all of our supporters hope we will show courage in times of challenge and change."

Isaac Wass, the final student speaker, built on that idea, saying, "The main ingredient of humanity is--get this--humans. People need to work together in order to thrive together.

"It all starts with you--and it all starts tomorrow. We're all in this together."

A bulk of the newly minted graduates briefly tossed their mortarboards skyward before recessing to a dignified James Ployhar tune played by the concert band.

As the Class of 2011 headed out into the drizzly night to celebrate, perhaps these words of Ektnitphong's were remembered by a few: "Our future is something we have to make happen, something we have to create.

"Don't follow your dreams--lead them."