Michelle Richardson hugs a family member after her graduation ceremony from the Ombudsman Center on Monday afternoon. (Caitlin Hein/For The Independent)

Michelle Richardson hugs a family member after her graduation ceremony from the Ombudsman Center Monday afternoon. (Caitlin Hein / Independent)

Caps, gowns, family, friends, photographs of the graduates shaking hands with the superintendent of schools.

All the trappings of a conventional graduation were present Monday for the six students who received their Grand Island Senior High School diplomas, even if the young people took an unconventional route through the Ombudsman program to get to their commencement ceremony.

About the only traditional part of a commencement ceremony was the song, “Pomp and Circumstance,” to accompany students down the aisle and to their seats for the ceremony.

Linda Sanders, Grand Island Ombudsman Center Director, told the graduates and audience that several school dignitaries besides Winter also were in attendance for the commencement, including Grand Island school board president Jennifer Worthington and Jeff Gilbertson, principal at Grand Island Senior High.

Winter welcomed everyone before turning to one of his favorite themes for students who are about to leave high school: Graduation ceremonies are typically called commencement and the root word for commencement is “commence, which means to begin.”

“This is the beginning of a new start for you,” said Winter, who noted that new start could include jobs or further education.

Winter also told the graduates that earning a high school diploma is not easy, which should make them proud they put in the hard work to earn that honor. He said graduates should always remember that nobody can ever take their high school diploma away from them.

Four of the six graduates — Michelle Richardson, Alian Leon Gamboa, Kathryn Hughes and Jonathan Mundo — gave short talks prior to receiving their diplomas.

Collectively, those students said they were grateful for the support they have received from Sanders, as well as Ombudsman teachers Duane Coats, Kay Obermiller and Karey Killion. They also noted the debt they owed to their families.

In talking about the students, Sanders pointed out some of the obstacles the young people have overcome in order to earn their high school diplomas. She said one student held down a full-time job while attending Ombudsman classes and another used the Ombudsman program to earn a degree even as he was working 40 to 50 hours each week.

Sanders told students that she would announce each of their names to receive their diploma, but that she would only shake their hand. She announced that Winter would both shake their hand and give them the official document certifying them as a Senior High graduate.

That procedure, Sanders added, was because Winter was very good at shaking students’ hands and “turning them around” so their parents, other family members and/or friends could take photographs of the big moment. Sanders was not kidding. Winter made sure to keep grasping each student’s hands until everyone had taken all they photos they wanted.

When each student returned to his or her seat, Sanders had them all rise and perform one more symbolic act to make them official graduates: Move the tassels on their graduation caps from the right side to the left side.

After the ceremony, Sanders said the six graduates bring the total number of Ombudsman graduates to 52 in 2½ years. Sanders said she reviewed the 46 young people who graduated prior to Monday and said there was only one person who stumbled following graduation — she had to list the grad as incarcerated at the time of the report.

However, she said that person was jailed on a misdemeanor charge, with a brief sentence that was closer to being days. Sanders said that person now hopes to join the U.S. Marines and she believes that might well be possible.

As for the remaining graduates, about three-fourths of them are employed and some also are planning to attend community college, Sanders said.

One 2010 graduate, Jose Gutierrez, came to Monday’s graduate because he wanted to see one of his friends, Michelle Richardson, in the commencement ceremony. He told Sanders that he is doing well now with a job at the Gibbon packing plant. He has his own car and an apartment within a house in Grand Island that he now rents.

Gutierrez said he wants to first pay off some existing debt so he can move to Omaha and enroll in the culinary arts program at Metropolitan Community College. “It (MCC) has the best program,” said Gutierrez, who said he’d like to become a chef.

Ombudsman students follow an academic program created to meet their specific needs and schedules. The students are required to follow a prescribed learning path.

Other Ombudsman graduates Monday were Reyna Chacon and Cristian Tejada-Gomez.