Steve White stood on the bleachers and smiled as his daughter, Marissa, walked by a few feet away to take her seat with her fellow graduates at McHenry High School East Campus.
“It is a big deal,” the proud father said of attending his eldest child’s commencement Wednesday night.
He noted that Marissa actually finished high school in December and has been working as a certified nursing assistant this semester while preparing to attend nursing school at McHenry County College.
“I’ve seen a lot of these kids grow up since first grade,” he added. “It’s bittersweet.”
Moms, dads, grandparents, siblings and friends held cameras and smartphones aloft in the new gym at East Campus as the Class of 2013’s members filed in, many of them having decorated their mortar boards with everything from hot pink glitter to fuchsia, lime and violet feathers.
Principal Lynn Schnelker welcomed the graduates and the crowd to the school’s 93rd annual commencement. When she asked the crowd to be seated, she requested that two young men remain standing.
Those were Robert Bracken and William Zauss, and when Schnelker announced the two had enlisted in the National Guard, the crowd quickly was back on its feet, offering a standing ovation.
“The McHenry High School community wishes you both a safe return home and thanks you,” Schnelker said.
Schnelker also noted the Class of 2013 was the first to be eligible to graduate with Distinguished Warrior honors, bestowed on students demonstrating a solid attendance record, a minimum 2.5 grade point average, involvement in school-sanctioned and community service activities and more. Of the 233 students, 56 achieved the accolade.
After academic honors students received medals, Class President Makayla Mizser took the podium.
“We’ve all walked a common path over the past four years,” she said, taking her classmates on a trip down memory lane, then asking them all to rise, look left and right, and hug the person next to them.
Mizser noted the graduates are moving on to open many new doors.
“Before any of us can open any of those doors, we have to close this one,” she said. “But we will never forget the friends and memories we’ve made here.”
Mark Adams gave the honors address, urging his classmates to challenge common notions of success.
“People say you never work a day in your life if you do what you love,” he said. “Follow your passions and do what you love.”