First came the challenges. Then came the triumph.
Linda Sanders, director of the Ombudsman Center for the Grand Island Public Schools, couldn’t resist telling a short story about each of the students who graduated Friday. Those stories often included obstacles that stood in the way of each person’s graduation.
But Sanders’ stories always ended with the students making a deliberate decision to get a high school diploma. Many of her stories also had a coda, with Sanders revealing future college, career or family goals.
While the students reached within themselves to find the will to earn a diploma, Sanders said not all the desire came solely from within. She said they also wanted to get a diploma because they knew how much their parents, other family members and others yearned to see them get a high school degree.
Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Rob Winter also recognized the role of parents, grandparents and other relatives and friends in helping the young people reach the special day of graduation.
“On behalf of the school district and the board of education, I want to say to parents and family, ‘Thank you,’” Winter said.
During his brief commencement address, he held up his car keys and the envelope holding each student’s diploma. “This is your diploma,” he said. “This is a key. The key is plastic and metal. The diploma is paper. You might think they have nothing in common.”
But Winter pointed out the plastic and metal key opens a door to his car, but only one door. He said the diploma also will open a door, but not just one. Instead, a diploma opens many doors that lead to college, jobs and much more. “Your diploma opens doors that — if you did not have it — would remain closed for you.”
While both the key and the diploma open doors, there also is a significant difference between the two, Winter said. At some point, he noted, he will get rid of the key and the car that goes with it. A car key is just a transient part of life, but a diploma is lasting. “You will always — always — know that you have a diploma,” he said.
Winter said students should never take for granted the fact that they have earned a high school diploma, because that is not a universal experience. “Not everybody has earned what you have earned,” he said.
Three of the graduates also made brief remarks to commemorate the occasion. Ryan Garcia described the teachers as “so powerful” for the work they have done in making sure students stayed on course to getting a diploma. Donovan Kucera talked about the support of family in helping him and others earn their diplomas. Ashley Padron said she also needed to thank the people who gave her so much support in earning her diploma through Ombudsman.
“This was my second chance to get my education,” said Padron.
As part of the ceremony, each student walked to the front of the room to receive his or her diploma from Winter, who also gave each person a firm handshake. Winter made sure he did not release a student’s hand until every family member and friend had an opportunity to take a photo of the occasion.
After students had returned to their seats with diploma in hand, Sanders asked them to rise for the final bit of ceremony: The turning of tassels to mark them as official graduations of Grand Island Senior High. That ceremonial act prompted audience members to burst into applause.
With that, the graduates walked to the back of the room, where they could be congratulated by family and friends, enjoy cake and punch, and pose for more photos of graduation day.