At Gateway, grads embrace compassion, differences

By Fran Ryan

For the Gazette

Published: 06-03-2017 11:18 AM

HUNTINGTON — Beach balls bounced through the audience and air horns loudly sounded when Superintendent David B. Hopson declared the members of the Gateway Regional High School Class of 2017 to be officially graduated on Friday evening.

The graduation ceremony for the 56 students took place on Booster Field, which was filled with parents, friends and well-wishers, some carrying flowers, others with balloons, cards and gifts.

The speeches all carried a theme of embracing compassion and difference.

Salutatorian Anna Pless told her classmates that it was their diversity that makes them strong.

“We are all different but we are all equally valued, significant and influential in society,” she said. “Our differences make us the extraordinary group of the class of 2017.”

Valedictorian Rachel LeBarron turned advice she once received from her father during a road race into the theme of her address to the class.

“It doesn’t matter haw fast you get to the top of the hill, it’s how fast you recover,” she said. “To me this quote means that the most important thing, is to learn from the obstacle and mend our mind and spirit.”

LeBarron said that while millennials often get a bad rap as the “me, me, me generation,” they are also globally oriented, compassionate and confident.

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“As we leave high school and move out into the real world these are the characteristics that we should try to employ in our daily lives,” she said.

Former Gateway Regional English teacher Rodney Kleber gave the commencement speech. He offered a lengthy address on the importance of critical thinking and thinking of others, as these apply to both education and democracy.

“Think, truly and carefully for yourself,” he said, prompting students to know how best to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and comprehend what they learn.

He implored students to “think about others,” to seek truth and equality and to focus on the things that connect us all.

Kleber quoted Martin Luther King Jr. saying “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“You pledged yourself to liberty and justice for all over 700 times in the past four years and again tonight,” he said. “Freedom and fair treatment, equal treatment, for all. You have made that pledge, that solemn promise. Keep it, act upon it, live it.”

Parent Andrew Green of Springfield said that he was exceptionally proud of his only daughter, Alexis Green, who will attend Jacksonville University in Florida.

“She is my one and only so this is a big day for her, and for me,” he said before hugging his daughter tightly and presenting her with a bouquet of flowers.

“It is very exciting and very emotional,” Colette Fellows of Huntington said of her daughter Bryanna Fellows graduating. “This has been a great school. It is a close-knit community that really comes together to make it all work.”

This year was the first year that graduates wore all blue robes, a break from the the past when boys wore blue and girls wore white.

“The single color gown was brought up by the schools gay straight alliance on behalf of the LGBTQ community,” said Wendy Long, Gateway Regional’s community relations director.

While a small handfull of parents and students balked at the idea, Long said the majority supported it.

“It’s open and accepting at this school and I am very glad that both of my girls grew up here,” Fellows said.