It was standing room only Friday for the audience at Ombudsman’s midterm commencement, which was given a planes, trains and automobiles theme by Superintendent Rob Winter.

Twelve students earned high school diplomas from the Grand Island Public Schools, with 11 of them participating in the ceremony at the Ombudsman Center, 2300 N. Webb Road.

So many friends, relatives and classmates from the Ombudsman alternative education program attended the graduation that there were not enough chairs.
That was true even though center Director Linda Sanders said she had transported numerous chairs to the site in an attempt to have enough seating. But she definitely was pleased with the turnout.

Sanders said, by looking at all the young people’s supporters in the large audience, “I can see another reason they are here. These are 12 very special students.”

“They worked hard,” Sanders said during her opening remarks.

After the students had walked down the center aisle of the chairs set up for the event, Sanders asked Winter to come forward and make a few remarks. Just like Sanders, Winter was happy to see so many people at Ombudsman to share in the students’ graduation.

“How neat is it that we don’t have enough chairs?” he said. “That is pretty cool.”

Winter asked both students and audience members to take an imaginary trip to Denver. He asked them to envision an automobile traveling west on Interstate 80 in Nebraska before it begins to head southwest on Interstate 76, going by Sterling and other towns before it finally arrives in Denver.

Then Winter asked people to imagine somebody who didn’t quite have confidence in his car and didn’t want to make a seven-hour drive to Denver in the winter. Consequently, that person drives to Hastings to board Amtrak for the trip west. The Amtrak passenger does not have to worry about whether it snows and might even want to read a book while riding on the train, until it finally arrives in downtown Denver.

Finally, Winter asked people to imagine another traveler whose biggest desire was to avoid the seven hours it would take to drive to Denver and the even longer time it might take for an Amtrak train to get there. That person decides to drive to Kearney, board a plane and fly into Denver International Airport.

Winter said the important thing for each of those travelers is not their mode of transportation. The most important fact is that all are in Denver.
The same thing is true for Friday’s graduates, Winter said. Each of the students may have taken a different route through school, but the important thing is that they were all there on Friday, ready to receive their diplomas.

Winter told the students and audience members that he wanted to repeat one thing from the remarks he made to midterm graduates who participated in Thursday’s commencement at Senior High.

The most important thing about graduation is not the present moment, Winter said. Neither is it the celebrations that students, friends and family may have later this year. The most important thing is the doors that will open for students in six months, one year or two years because of the diploma they earned on Friday.

Short speeches by three of Friday’s graduates showed that each of the 12 students has indeed taken a unique path to graduation. Rosangelica Flores thanked the Ombudsman staff for helping her get to graduation, the same thank-you also offered by the other two speakers, Tyler Wiegert and Lauren Bopp.
Flores also thanked her family for support and noted she plans to begin college in January.

Sanders introduced Wiegert, noting he came to Grand Island from California. For his part, Wiegert said, “I never thought I would graduate at home.”

He said he was a person prone to getting in trouble, which is why he came to Nebraska. Wiegert did not think the move would make a difference, but it did. He thanked his grandparents for their support in helping him graduate, and he expressed optimism about the future.

Bopp said her path took her from Central Catholic to Senior High in a journey where she almost did not graduate because of “underestimating my abilities.” She views Ombudsman as the “only place I had a chance at graduation.”

Bopp said she believed it was all right for her and her fellow Ombudsman students to feel a little nervous on Friday because “this is the most important day in our lives.”

She quoted President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “A man who has never gone to school can steal from a freight car, but a man with an education can own the whole railroad.” Bopp said she likes that quotation because it shows what a difference education can make in a person’s life. She concluded by wishing her fellow graduates well.

“It’s time to say goodbye to Ombudsman and start working our way to our next goal,” Bopp said.

With that, it was time for Sanders and Winter to present students with their high school diplomas, a moment that was marked by cheers and applause each time one of the young people took hold of his or her diploma.

Winter took care that students paused long enough that friends and family could get good photos of the moment. After that, everyone enjoyed punch and cake, while mingling with one another and taking graduation photos.

As for Sanders, she had already promised to try to round up more chairs for the May 2012 Ombudsman graduation

Grand Island Ombudsman Class of 2012
Lauren Bopp, Jesica Casares, Nathan Dice, Rosangelica Flores, Tessa Flynn, Andrew Gillham, Danny Huerta, Maxwell Lynn, Alexis Martinez, Timothy Padron, Karlina Rambi and Tyler Wiegert.