The smell of sunscreen and promise filled the air Thursday night as 308 West Albany High School graduates marched, two by two, onto the field at Memorial Stadium, to the traditional graduation march led by band director Stuart Welsh.
Though rain threatened throughout the day, the sun held out for the ceremony, which started at 7 p.m., forcing friends and family to shield their eyes as they watched the procession, shouting names and well-wishes.
The group assembled, representing the 65th class to graduate from the building on Queen Avenue, was led by five valedictorians and earned $2.2 million in scholarships.
“Today is about you,” said Greater Albany Public Schools board member Kim Butzner. “It’s about you the students who have done the hard work.”
After being welcomed by principal Susie Orsborn, the students who earned not only a perfect 4.0 grade point average but did so by taking at least seven advanced placement classes (turning in top scores on state tests and completing local requirements), were given a chance to speak: valedictorians Kristen Adamec, Sophia Adams, Amanda Givens, Makenzie Kellar and William Radtke.
They implored their classmates to remember how quickly their senior year had flown and to remember it was an indicator for the rest of their lives.
“The problem with people,” Adams quoted, “is that they forget it’s the small things that count.”
Radtke also looked toward the future, asking his classmates to lead intentional lives. But it was Kellar who earned applause for highlighting the close ties the class of 2019 shared.
After her family moved to Oklahoma, Kellar balanced work, school assignments, extracurricular activities and learning how to cook more than macaroni and cheese with the loneliness of missing her family.
“But I was never alone,” she said. “I was with the class of 2019, my West Albany family, that I didn’t appreciate until now. Thank you for making the most difficult year of my life one of the best years of my life. We may not be attend the same school anymore but we will always be family.”
In West Albany tradition, senior class president Tanner Madsen received his diploma, first announcing his intention to travel on a mission to Denmark with the LDS church, before reading the remaining 307 names of his fellow graduates and their plans for the future. Next steps range from beauty school to universities to community colleges to the armed forces.
Orsborn read a statement from the West Albany staff to the class of 2019, calling it a talented group but above all, a fun one that loved to laugh and that was eager to change the world.
“Be courageous,” she told them. “Dream big and above all, believe you can make a difference because you can. We’re counting on you.”