Twelve students became graduates of both Ombudsman and Grand Island Senior High Friday afternoon during a ceremony attended by family, friends and Grand Island Public School administrators and board members.

Friday’s ceremony means 19 students have graduated from the Ombudsman program during its first contract year with the Grand Island Public Schools.
Linda Sanders, Grand Island Ombudsman Center director, said that fact gave everyone another reason to celebrate beyond the diplomas that were handed out to seniors. Sanders said Ombudsman is in Grand Island today because of choices made by Grand Island school administrators and school board members.

Ombudsman graduates Lucille Allen (left), Keisha Carruth (center) and Brandi Lempka move their tassels over after receiving their diplomas during the graduation celebration at the Ombudsman Center in Grand Island on Friday.(Independent/Crystal LoGiudice)

Ombudsman graduates Lucille Allen (left), Keisha Carruth (center) and Brandi Lempka move their tassels over after receiving their diplomas during the graduation celebration at the Ombudsman Center in Grand Island on Friday.(Independent/Crystal LoGiudice)

Choices was the theme of the day for both the program and for Friday’s graduates.

“The No. 1 choice was by school administrators to study the Ombudsman program,” Sanders said. “They did some investigating to see if it could be used as an alternative education school here.”

She said the second choice was made by the Grand Island school board after it heard information about the Ombudsman program. Sanders said board members made a choice “to invest in us (Ombudsman) and to invest in kids.”

However, the most important choices were made by the 12 students who graduated Friday, Sanders said. “You made the choice to work hard. You chose to get good grades. You chose to get your work done on time. You chose to follow the rules.”

Interim Superintendent Harrison Cass said that by choosing to continue with their education until they graduated, the 12 students had made a choice that should make them proud. Cass said that the graduation choice is one that sends the students in the right direction. He urged the students to keep making good choices that will lead them on to new accomplishments. He said work, continued education or the military can all be good choices for Friday’s graduates.

Cass said that he has made the same request of every graduating class he has ever addressed. He said he always asks graduates to thank the people who helped bring them to their graduation day. He said that is always at least one adult – and oftentimes, more than just one adult – who helped get the young person to graduate from high school. He said that list of people to thank can include a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a counselor, other relatives or friends.

“Do it today, do it soon,” said Cass, who said he can look at his own life and realize he only thanked some of the people who helped him reach high school graduation. He said by the time he thought of the need to thank other people, it was too late.

Cass said that as students move to the next stage of life, they should realize that they will need continued support. He also asked the students to “come back to see us” as alumni of Senior High and the Ombudsman program. He said they can share stories to inspire high school students to their own graduations in future years.

Keisha Carruth (center) smiles next to fellow graduate Lucille Allen during the graduation celebration at the Ombudsman Center in Grand Island on Friday. (Independent/Crystal LoGiudice)

Keisha Carruth (center) smiles next to fellow graduate Lucille Allen during the graduation celebration at the Ombudsman Center in Grand Island on Friday. (Independent/Crystal LoGiudice)

In graduation addresses and comments made after the ceremony, several graduates talked about dreams for the future. Adam Diaz-Archer did not need Cass’s advice to thank people because he thanked fellow graduate Keisha Carruth for encouraging him to be part of Ombudsman and to graduate. He also thanked a brother, Julio; a younger brother, Greg; his mom; his stepmom; and other brothers, stepsisters and stepbrothers. Although not in his immediate plans, Diaz-Archer said he would like to enroll in college.

Lucy Allen said that she made some bad choices that caused her to quit high school, but she made a good choice in deciding to get back on track to receive a high school degree. She noted the support of her family in helping her succeed through the Ombudsman program. Allen said she now wants to take postsecondary education so she can be a photographer.

Ombudsman graduates Adam Diaz-Archer (right), Ed McDanie (center) and Kevin Choulamountry wait to take their seats for the graduation celebration at the Ombudsman Center in Grand Island on Friday. A total of 12 students received Grand Island Senior High diplomas.

Ombudsman graduates Adam Diaz-Archer (right), Ed McDanie (center) and Kevin Choulamountry wait to take their seats for the graduation celebration at the Ombudsman Center in Grand Island on Friday. A total of 12 students received Grand Island Senior High diplomas. (Independent/Crystal LoGiudice)

Both Kevin Choulamountry and Keisha Carruth said their strong desire to be part of the graduating class of 2011 is why they chose the Ombudsman program. They both noted that if everything had gone smoothly, they were scheduled to be part of the class of 2011. Choulamountry noted that he spent some time in the Dallas school system before he decided that he wanted to come to Grand Island, “my hometown,” to graduate. However, he was behind in credits, so he used Ombudsman to catch up. Choulamountry said he plans to work to save up for school, with plans to go to community college and possibly become an auto mechanic.

Carruth said she dropped out of high school, but decided to return because of how much her decision hurt her family. She said she was happy that Ombudsman helped her graduate as part of the class of 2011. She said she will be an academic transfer student at Central Community College, with plans to transfer to a four-year university so she can earn a degree in teaching.

When asked what she wants to teach, Carruth said, “Kindergarten.”

Ombudsman graduates

Lucille Allen, Keisha Carruth, Danny Castaneda, Esmeralda Castorena, Ty Chanthapatheth, Kevin Choulamountry, Jose Cruz, Adam Diaz-Archer, M.J. Lemburg, Brandi Lempka, Ed McDaniel, LaRon Trotter.

Awards

Keisha Carruth: President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence, Ombudsman Educational Services American Citizenship Award.

Brandi Lempka: President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence.

Esmeralda Castorena: President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence.