Enthusiasm was the word of the day as 26 students, the largest class in Ombudsman’s history in Grand Island, graduated on Monday.
The largest class resulted in the largest audience to ever witness an Ombudsmen graduation ceremony. Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends and others filled nearly all the folding chairs that went from near the Ombudsman classroom almost to the back wall.
And they were an enthusiastic bunch. As the soon-to-be-graduates walked down the center aisle, some people couldn’t restrain themselves and began clapping, cheering and calling out the names of the students they knew.
Another round of applause broke out when the final recorded notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” faded away.
Linda Sanders, Ombudsman Center director, welcomed everyone by noting the graduating class is the largest in the program’s history. Sanders, who has been with Ombudsman for five years, pointed out that 150 students have graduated since the program started.
“This is a hallmark for me and a hallmark for you,” said Sanders, who added that she appreciated all the people who came to to see the students get their high school diplomas.
In addition to supporting the students during the ceremony, Sanders said many of the people in the room supported the students as they worked through the Ombudsman program. She asked everyone to continue supporting the students in their future endeavors.
As part of his recognition of the local Ombudsman Class of 2015, Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Rob Winter noted that he has been to numerous graduation ceremonies during his career as an education. “Graduation is one of the absolute best parts of my job,” he said.
“To the graduates, doors opened today. Doors for you opened today,” Winter said. “It is your choice whether you go through those doors.”
Winter noted that without a high school diploma, many opportunities for jobs, colleges and the military almost certainly would have remained closed. The superintendent noted that earning a high school diploma through the Ombudsman Center is an alternate to earning a degree though a high school, but it makes no difference.
“It’s a high school diploma. Each of you needs to be very, very proud of that accomplishment,” said Winter, drawing another round of applause from the audience.
With that, it was time for each person to receive his or her diploma. Sanders told a little story about each graduate. She pointed out that some people earned their degree after getting a second chance to participate in the Ombudsman program.
Some students were early morning risers who could always be counted on to be one of the first people through the classroom doors in the morning. Other people needed some prodding and reminders to get to class each day.
At least a couple of the students earned their high school diploma while simultaneously working at full-time jobs. More than a few students devised a study plan that would allow them to earn a high school diploma early, which would allow them to get a head start on a job. A couple more used the early high school graduation to get an early start on their college education.
Regardless of their personal stories, family members and friends loudly cheered and applauded when Sanders called each student forward to receive his or her diploma. True to his word, Winter would not stop shaking any graduate’s hand until everybody in the audience who wanted photos of the student posing with his or her photo had gotten all the pictures they wanted.
When the students turned the tassels on their graduation caps, audience members broke into one more thunderous ovation.
Ombudsman Center graduation also includes a reception featuring cake and punch. But no one was in a hurry to get to the refreshments. Instead, most of the new graduates stayed in their caps and gowns so they could pose alongside a wide variety of family members and friends to have even more photos taken.
Sharing post-graduation hugs and kisses with family and friends was far more important for the graduates than enjoying even the best-tasting cake and punch.
The Ombudsman Center Class of 2015
Jose Ayala Vargas
Brian Riojas Hernandez