SOUTH WASHINGTON COUNTY SCHOOLS - A jubilant Wolfpack launched their hats and their hopes skyward at Park High School's June 2 commencement.
The Class of 2019 received a rousing sendoff inside a packed Aldrich Arena. The ceremony began with the Edward Elgar chestnut "Pomp and Circumstance" and concluded with a rafter-shaking rendition of "Hail to the Wolfpack" by Thomas Storm and the Park High School combined bands.
Student speaker Grace Enosata Akhalu exhorted her fellow seniors to embrace challenge. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she talked about her own struggles to live up to the high standards of her culture and overcoming the crippling effects of self-doubt.
"Class of 2019, you are here to receive a piece of your path to your future," she said. "You have a chance to be better ... Yes, challenges will be there but do not be afraid of them. They're there for your own good ... Show people that your pain and struggles define you, but not for your detriment but for success. Become a voice that has never before been heard, and use it to speak words of compassion, integrity and truth."
Staff Speaker Maria Tol, AVID elective teacher and program coordinator, told students that winning was less important than participation.
"Show up. Volunteer. Join groups," Tol said. "You will make a difference."
The reflective mood of the afternoon gave way to excitement during the presentation of diplomas. Each green-gowned senior who stepped onstage had their own cheering section in the bleachers. The echoes resounded and overlapped with each new burst of whoops and applause.
District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus delivered the official acceptance of the Class of 2019.
"I'd like to thank the parents, guardians and loved ones that helped support these great young people," Jacobus told the audience. "To the graduates, I want to thank you for questioning us, for pushing us, and for disagreeing with us. Because you made us better educators. We are better in 2019 than we were in 2018, because you were here."