|Four speakers offered encouragement and perspective for Verona High School graduates during commencement exercises last Saturday.||The valedictorian and salutatorian of the Class of 2009 gave their addresses, as did the top graduates of the Class of 1959, repeating the speeches they gave 50 years ago.|
Superintendent Bill Sweet opened the ceremony in the school gym, noting this was a year of firsts for Verona. This had been the first year in the new high school and the first time air conditioning had been available in the gym for commencement. Cleaning and tuning of the sound system had also significantly improved acoustics in the gym.
"What an exciting time for graduates," Sweet said. "Some can't wait to get out of Verona. Others will look back and say their high school years were not so bad after all."
Sweet asked the faculty to stand for a round of applause. If the graduates went on to college, technical school or work, the superintendent said they had been well prepared.
In his speech, valedictorian Tyler May extended thanks to junior high and high school teachers for various contributions made to the students' lives. Some had taught in surprising ways, such as history teacher and coach Brad Stewart who framed past events in terms of great ball games, business teacher Susan Senninger who focused on "the way things should be done," and vocational agriculture teacher Joe Moore who showed how agriculture holds a key place in almost every career field.
"Our class went through a lot of experiences together, and I promise you that we will keep in touch and remember everyone we graduated with and hold a tight bond with them," May said. He concluded with a challenge from Ralph Waldo Emerson, to go "where there is no path at all and leave a trail."
Salutatorian Sarina Moua recalled her reservations about moving to such a small town.
"I have grown to love the tight knit friendships I have gained, along with all the extra little perks of high school that came with the package," Moua said.
Moua had her own memories of teachers to share, including math teacher Karen Remington, who would not let a little thing like a power outage stop her. Moua recalled odd lessons, such as overcoming the fear of answering the phone while working in the office, and challenges learned on the gym floor.
"Mrs. Rothert once told me that 'If your high school years are the best years of your life, then I'm sorry.' Just remember that an experience college to the fullest," Moua concluded.
Speeches by the 1959 top graduates, present for a reunion, were notably shorter and more general.
Maryann (Pilkerton) Ford came from Orange County, Calif., to deliver her address. Ford expressed gratitude to teachers and the community for helping her classmates reach a milestone in their lives, though patience may have been strained at times. Ford spoke of the world they were entering as fast-moving, full of conflict and instability.
"We are entering with hope," Ford said. She identified the United States as "the last great stronghold of democracy," and the job of her generation was to preserve that freedom.
"It is through education that we remain free," Ford said.
Ford encouraged her class to continue their education through experience, and to never forget each other. Turning to the 2009 class, Ford said, "Set your goals high. Don't compromise your values. May God bless you."
Margaret (McCord) Holle, who worked for 25 years as city clerk in her hometown of Monett, commented she was just as nervous repeating her speech as she had been 50 years earlier.
"It seems like yesterday that we were freshmen," Holle said. Holle said she considered the need for education to be significant in the world into which she was graduating and in shaping a better, happier world.
Holle hoped her classmates could travel the world. She urged them to rely on the training they had received from their home, school and church to lead them on the road ahead.
Student honors and scholarships were announced during the ceremony. Graduates also took a break to present flowers to friends and family seated around the gym.
Before the diplomas were presented, Principal Terry Winton had several observations to make. He told parents not to redo their children's rooms yet, as the graduates would be back.
"A lot will be taken away from you," Winton told the graduates. "They can't take away your principles, your morals and your integrity. Work on developing them. You will make mistakes. Do the best you can to correct them. True intelligence is learning from your mistakes."
Winton urged students to pursue their dreams. He added, "It's always better to try and fail than to not try at all."
Diplomas were awarded by School Board President Donnie Craft. The graduates then turned the tassels on their mortar board hats to complete the ceremony and left the stage to gather at the rear of the gym. Throwing their hats in the air on cue, the groups let out a cheer.