As the 109 graduates of the Wright City High School Class of 2012 filed in, the crowd packed inside the gymnasium seized the moment to erupt into cheers that kept up well past the moment when the last senior took her seat.
It was a festive and emotional beginning to a ceremony marked by equal parts of business and fun, solemnity and celebration.
It took the high school’s chorus’ slow and serene rendition of the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There” to quiet the crowd, reset the tone and focus attention on the business to come.
Following Superintendent Dr. Chris Gaines’ welcome, Principal Shawn Brown took the podium for his turn at congratulating graduating seniors. Brown said he recently was asked to characterize this graduating class.
“The Class of 2012 was one that took care of business,” Brown told the graduates. “You took care of business academically, athletically and in other activities,” he said, calling out the $88,000 in scholarships the class had received and the notable achievements outside the classroom.
The Class of 2012 is the first to graduate under the new three-tier cum laude system (cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude) in an effort to recognize those students who go above and beyond in their school career in all areas, including GPA along with participation in advanced courses and in extracurricular activities. Twenty-three students graduated Sunday with the cum laude distinction, expanding recognition beyond the former top 10 system.
Brown said he was especially proud of the maturation of students into “men and women focused on doing business ‘the Wright way’ with respect, attitude, effort, teamwork and Wright City pride.”
That maturation was on display during a 10-minute slideshow of individual students shown first as babies or youngsters then as young women and men in their senior photos, often in settings that matched the student’s personality and interests. As each student’s photos came up on the jumbo screen, he or she walked back into the crowd holding flowers that were given to parents, grandparents and other friends and relatives.
By that point, some of the jitters and tension expressed earlier by students queued up to walk in appeared to have dissipated.
On a weekend of record-breaking temperatures, school leaders effectively planned for keeping the crowd comfortable inside.
“We started cooling down the gym late last night, and have been directing every bit of air conditioning into the space since,” said Superintendent Gaines.
Graduates selected science teacher Richard Mabrey to deliver the faculty keynote address, and Mabrey delivered with inspiration, humor and a song.
“Don’t be just another cow in a herd of cattle,” he told graduates, and then followed that advice with a quote from poet Robert Frost in encouraging the class to always be true to themselves. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Mabrey closed on a light note, adjusting a ritual he has practiced in the classroom on student birthdays, pulling out his acoustic guitar to sing “Happy Graduation to You” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”
Seniors Erika Dohrman and Abigail McNeill delivered graduate addresses, recalling memorable class times and their own advice for their classmates as they go out into the world.
“YOLO,” Dohrman reminded the class, referring to texting shorthand for “you only live once.” “Take risks and do whatever it takes to achieve your dreams,” she said.