WORTHINGTON - Emotions ran high as 200 Worthington High School graduates walked across the stage Friday night to receive their well-earned high school diplomas.
For many it came as a sigh of relief, but even if it is just one small blip on the radar of their lives, it marked the end of an era.
The class moto, chosen by the senior class officers, is a line from Douglas Adams’ “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul,” and is a fitting look at where their lives will go from here: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
That optimistic attitude about their future was echoed by WHS Principal Josh Noble, who spoke briefly during the school’s 132nd commencement ceremony.
“I’m extremely proud of this group,” Noble said. “You guys are change makers. I have no doubt you’ll continue to make a positive impact on the world.”
District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard introduced the school board members and offered a few points of advice, including, “Remember to call your parents” - an admonition that brought chuckles from the audience.
Linda Neugebauer, a WHS communication arts teacher, was Friday’s commencement speaker.
“You are all so attractive,” she told the graduates in her speech. “When you’re in high school there are days you don’t feel very attractive, and it’s important to tell them that.”
Neugebauer was blessed to have most of the students of the Class of 2019 when they were freshmen and many again as sophomores. Along with other elective classes, some of the students had her as a teacher as many as seven times.
Bringing laughs from the whole crowd, Neugebauer said, “We have shared many jokes. Sometimes I wasn’t really joking, but some of you thought I was. … I learned that you would sell your souls for a Jolly Rancher. And you would sell your best friend’s soul for a blue one.”
Calling the seniors “bright and inquisitive,” Neugebauer’s commencement address - titled “Check your Font!” - reminded the class of her frequent admonitions to use the proper Modern Language Association (MLA) formatting in their writing assignments. She used this as a metaphor for their lives.
“Every day is a new page Every day is a new document,” she said. “On your blank sheet of paper that is your new day, check your font … be as original and creative and excited about your font as you would like it to be. Does it reflect you and your values and the life you want to live?”
Neugebauer’s impact on the senior class was not forgotten by her pupils, as the two student speakers - Lucrecia Ramos and Mike Martinez, who were chosen after presenting their potential speeches to a panel of judges, - both remember her and credit her as having been instrumental and inspiring in their high school careers. In interviews earlier in the week, both Ramos and Martinez spoke fondly of their former English teacher.
“When we had Mrs. Neugebauer freshman year, she encouraged us to try out for our graduation speech,” Ramos remembered. “I decided then to do it.”
“She got me into speech,” Martinez added of Neugebauer. “She was very attracted to my writing and said, ‘You have a great voice that needs to be heard.”’
In his speech, Martinez thanked his teachers and encouraged his fellow students to “put on those grownup pants and keep moving forward. Believe in the person that you aspire to become. With that mentality, you will achieve greatness.
“If there is one piece of advice that I can give you today,” Martinez continued, “is that in life we will fail multiple times. … When we fail in life, we must recount what went wrong and own up to our mistakes. No one can control our lives but ourselves. … We are the masters of your own fate; we are the captains of our own souls.”
Ramos, too, voiced her appreciation to the teachers she’s had over the years.
“With our education, we’ve received the key that will open many doors,” she said. “We thank God and everyone who has made this moment possible. … Today is the culmination of a very important part of our lives. We have grown from our childhood and adolescence and are entering the adult world.
“When we think of time, we usually think of hours, minutes and seconds,” Ramos added. “If we were to think deeper, we’d realize that time is also made up of special shared moments we call memories. Thirteen years ago, and in the years along the way, a group of strangers came together to eventually form the class of 2019.”
Senior members of the Trojan choir sang the National Anthem as well as the song “Do I Make You Proud.” The WHS band played several rousing pieces and performed 15 repetitions of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Of the 200 graduates, 188 were WHS traditional students and 12 were Area Learning Center students who chose to walk in the WHS ceremony. Three exchange students, Sabrina Gomes, Liss Huss and Paola Sharka, were also included in the group, though they did not receive diplomas. Fifty-one of the graduates – 25% of the class – wore honor or highest honor cords.
Senior class advisors read the names of the graduates in their classes, and each student was handed a red Gerbera daisy by senior advisor Lakeyta Swinea after receiving their diploma and having their mortarboard tassels switched from right to left by Landgaard.
Senior class officers were Joselin Gonzales Mejia, president; Evelin Boniface, vice president; Davis Moore, secretary; Judy Keophimphone, treasurer.
Senior advisors were Shelley Barber, LeAnn Barduson, Sam Becker, Tierney Berg, Jennifer Buchholz, Moira Crooks, Lorna Kruger, Paul Olsen, Anne Raetz, Stacy Sauerbrei, John Singler and Emilia Witthuhn.