Verona High School graduates looked back fondly on their years of school together and heard advice on staying grounded by the guest speaker at commencement exercises on May 15.
Due to demolition of the old high school, the gym stage was deemed unusable for the occasion. Consequently a platform was placed along the north bleachers, providing a wider, more visible arrangement for the occasion. Superintendent William Sweet said he wanted to try the new set-up last year and hopes the board will continue its use next year.
Co-valedictorian Ryan Jennings offered a look back at years of schooling in Verona in his speech. He recalled major achievements by the faculty, such as math teacher Karen Remington leading him through AP calculus, a feat he equated to "digging to China with a plastic spoon" and Sue Doss teaching him how to use a sewing machine.
Jennings had thanks to extend to several faculty members. He thanked Neva Harrall for teaching how to be less angry with other people's opinions and showing even "Democrats can dislike Obama-care." Agriculture teacher Joe Moore's promotion of the Arkansas Razorbacks inadvertently led Jennings to go to the University of Arkansas.
Jennings also quoted scripture, urging his classmates to rely on God for making and leading each class member.
Co-valedictorian Stephanie Koehler looked back on specific incidents over the past 13 years at Verona. Koehler recalled a classmate in fifth grade who cut in line and ended up banging his head on a doorknob, Halloween parties at her home and drives to Columbia for business contests.
"Looking back at all the memories, it is sad to know that many friendships will fade with time," Koehler said, "but on a positive note, our memories will always be with us."
Koehler said one of the biggest lessons she had learned was to be herself and focus on personal happiness, no matter what others think.
"Remember, life is a journey filled with lessons to be learned. Take full advantage of your life and strive to learn every lesson," Koehler said.
The guest speaker was a Bob Berger, founder of WinTech in Monett and co-founder of Mocha Jo's coffee cafe. Berger said he recalled little about his high school graduation 38 years ago but did remember getting a kiss from a classmate, showing each person can leave a memorable impression.
Berger observed sociologists have dubbed those born between 1981 and 2000 as "millennials." Surveys have found the age group characterized by being highly protected as children, tightly scheduled and civic minded.
Berger told the graduates to never skip a class and to never get behind in their school work, for catching up is not easy like high school. Berger urged the graduates to find God and establish a personal relationship with him.
"Don't worry about the past four years," Berger said. "My generation worries about that part. This afternoon, it's about your future. I challenge you to pick a direction in your life that will impress."
The ceremony also included the song "I Will Remember You," sung by a quartet of two graduates and two underclass girls. The graduates distributed flowers to special people in the audience, and scholarships were announced.
For the distribution of diplomas, all the class left the stage, returning one by one as Principal Terry Winton called their names, receiving a diploma and a handshake from Board of Education President Donnie Craft.
The graduates left the stage to the stains on Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" as a recessional. Standing across the gym, they gave out a group cheer and tossed their mortar board hats into the air to end the ceremony.