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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Verona graduates' future is bright

Monday, May 16, 2011

Verona High School valedictorian Daisy Fernandez, at left, and salutatorian Nathaniel Cochran, at right, prepared for their big moment to address the Class of 2011. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Twenty-five graduates at Verona High School received diplomas during commencement exercises in the school gym on Saturday.

The 15-member Verona band played "Pomp and Circumstance" as the graduates, wearing robes of gold and purple, walked to the stage in twos and threes.

Superintendent William Sweet greeted the audience and noted that 17 of the graduates planned to go to college.

"Follow your dreams. Don't sweat the little stuff," Sweet said.

Students Shea Findley and Kaitlin Shirmen sang the National Anthem. Valedictorian Daisy Fernandez followed with the announcement that students had voted to give teacher Christina Jenkins the "Teacher of the Year" distinction. Jenkins came to the stage and received a hug from Fernandez.

In giving the valedictorian address, Fernandez looked ahead to the future. She encouraged her classmates to see themselves at graduation and recall what they did to get there.

"Mistakes are what determine what we will become and the path that our lives will take," Fernandez said.

Recalling the idea that "to travel is better than to arrive," Fernandez concluded there is more than one path to get to where one wants to be. Choosing a different path does not mean the original path has to be abandoned.

"I now realize it is actually what happens along the way that matters," Fernandez said. "It's the journey, not the destination. You just have to move along and trust that the future will work itself out like it's supposed to."

The graduating class has been one of the most unified Verona has known, Fernandez continued. Thus the students had learned something from each other, like solving problems and how to laugh. Teachers too had provided lessons, such as how not to drive on the highway and how "everything looks good with a pair of high heels."

"Do not stress if something does not turn out as you wish," Fernandez concluded. "Keep in mind that there is a reason for everything. Keep your head up and remember that the only way out is the way through."

Salutatorian Nathaniel Cochran looked to the dictionary for the definition of "influence," noting everyone has the power to be an influence and to feel what others do. He said the graduates stood at commencement as a testament to the positive influences in their lives.

"Teachers and faculty, past and present throughout the years, our parents and other family members, some who have gone from this life here on earth, have been an influence on our lives," Cochran said.

"We leave footprints in the sands of time. A pathway to follow for you, the underclassmen, to be all you can be. Be that influence that may help someone else along the way," Cochran concluded.

The guest speaker for commencement was Juan Meraz, a 1985 Missouri State University graduate who is now the coordinator of diversity outreach and recruitment for the university. Meraz identified the graduates as a group known as "millennials," students who are technologically advanced and who are changing the approach of higher education.

Meraz chose "keeping it real" as his theme. He turned "real" into an acronym with four points of advice: Respect what is coming toward you and those around you; Enjoy your experience; Allow yourself to enjoy and experience both successes and failures, which will bring growth; and Learn throughout life.

Meraz spoke in both English and Spanish to emphasize his message. He concluded with an original poem on education, which ended, "You are the future leaders of your generation."

Counselor Tracy Clements announced the winners of scholarships. She proudly declared the class of 25 students had earned $1,145,504 in scholarships.

Graduates took a break during the ceremony to distribute flowers to special friends and family in the audience. Then Principal Terry Winton read the names of the class and Board of Education President Donnie Craft presented the diplomas.

As they left the stage, the graduates put on sunglasses as a reflection of the bright future ahead of them. The graduates left the gym, then returned to toss their mortar board hats into the air and spray each other and the room with Silly String and glitter before greeting spectators and posing for pictures.

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