Class of 2006 is a list of successes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 4, 2006

By Kari Lucin, staff writer

For 262 2006 Albert Lea High School graduates, Friday was all about success: the success of the wrestling team, the success of the student newspaper, and the success of simply graduating.

&8220;The success stories here are endless. I believe that success is becoming who you truly are,&8221; Keynote speaker Bill Villarreal said. &8220;You cannot change one moment of your past but you can change your whole future. Now’s your time.&8221;

About 2,300 people crowded into the un-air-conditioned high school gym Friday evening, using their programs as fans while they sat on the bleachers and in folding chairs.

The graduates filed in two by two from the back of the gym to &8220;Pomp and Circumstance,&8221; mortarboard hats perched on their heads. A few students kept shifting the red and blue tassels out of their faces as they walked, some smiling, some cheering, some laughing. Some stayed solemn, and more than a few tears were shed by the time the evening came to an end.

Superintendent Dave Prescott was first to congratulate the graduates on their successes, encouraging them to continue learning.

&8220;School spirit and community support have soared to an all-time high,&8221; Prescott said. &8220;As you move forward in life, the most enduring skill is the ability to learn how to learn.&8221;

Prescott encouraged them to consider the value of honesty, and then gave his final piece of advice.

&8220;Remember to call your mom,&8221; Prescott said. &8220;Your parents love you more than you know. Call your mom. Call your dad too. You’ll always be glad you did.&8221;

Villarreal started his talk of successes with the success of his own young grandson at Sibley Elementary School.

&8220;Sibley Elementary School had called my wife because our grandson, a first-grader, had to go to the hospital,&8221; Villarreal said. &8220;You see, this boy had succeeded in getting a jawbreaker stuck in his nose.&8221;

When his grandmother showed up unexpectedly, the boy sneezed and fortunately, the jawbreaker popped right out.

Villarreal also spoke about the successes of the graduating class, naming no names. He told the story of a state champion wrestler, the story of a 16-year-old mother going to the University of Minnesota next year to study medicine, the story of a young woman who after two years of battling leukemia had a stroke that paralyzed one side of her body, and the story of one girl who was the first in her family to graduate high school. Finally Villarreal told the audience about a young man who spent a lifetime being told he would never amount to anything, but was right there with his classmates graduating.

All those successes, and many more Villarreal said, came from the class of 2006, who were sitting in the first few rows of the gym in folding chairs, waiting to walk up to the stage and receive their diplomas.

He had one parting piece of advice to offer to the graduates.

&8220;If you haven’t heard anything else I’ve said this evening, I want you to hear this,&8221; Villarreal said. &8220;Keep candy out of your nose.&8221;

The high school choir, including senior choir members, performed &8220;Stars I Shall Find&8221; and &8220;Give Us Hope&8221; under the direction of Diane Heaney before graduating seniors Alexandra Larson and Matthew Schumann spoke, recalling fond memories of their years together as underclassmen.

Following the presentation of diplomas, the graduates flung their hats into the air at the finale. Some had trouble finding them again, but everything got sorted out in the end. They filed into the Media Center to return their robes, worn so briefly on a landmark day.

Many graduates cheered, or congratulated their friends. Others cried and hugged everyone, just in case they wouldn’t see them again.

&8220;There’s a big bubble of emotion,&8221; said graduate Emily Wirkus after the ceremony as she wiped away tears.

Many graduates were already thinking about the days ahead.

&8220;I’m looking forward to college and playing lots of video games,&8221; Robert Gerhardt said.

(Contact Kari Lucin at kari.lucin@albertleatribune.com or 379-3444.)