CRYSTAL LAKE – “Are you ready? Are you ready?” a beaming Sherri Manninen asked a group of red-gowned grads as they stood in the church vestibule before their Saturday morning ceremony.
Manninen gave off every appearance of being a proud parent, and in a way she was, she said.
“I’m the office manager,” said Manninen, of Faith Lutheran High School in Crystal Lake. “I started last summer here, and I’m very excited … I love my job. You kind of feel like you’re a mom to all of these kids.”
With the Class of 2013 numbering just 15, the staff, faculty and students of Faith Lutheran know each other well.
“I went to [Crystal Lake] South for two years and then switched here,” said 17-year-old Rebekah Miller of Crystal Lake. “I like this so much better. It’s so much more of a homey feeling – more like a family here.”
Miller and fellow graduate Max Bishop, of Algonquin, said they’ll miss their close-knit school, but looked forward to the next phase of their lives.
Class salutatorian Bishop, 18, is headed for Elgin Community College, while Miller is headed to McHenry County College.
Wherever they and their fellow graduates wind up, the Rev. Thomas Larson said during his address at Immanuel Lutheran Church, may they remain steadfast in their communication with God and forever be mindful of their example.
“Success in life is more than making lots of money, and more than just being happy,” said Larson, a former Faith Lutheran board member and former Woodstock pastor who returned from Columbus, Neb., to officiate. “Success in life is making a difference.”
Valedictorian Siyu Zhu, a foreign exchange student from China, said she was grateful to her home and host families for making possible the exceptional experience she has enjoyed while in the United States the past two years.
“No one should be scared to step out of their comfort zone,” she told her classmates. “You might imagine how you’re going to get in to trouble, but God will step up.”
Through hymns, prayers, a video remembrance and speeches, the graduates, their families and friends reflected on their paths to date and the journeys still ahead.
“God has given each one of you a spiritual gift,” said Chris Schoenleb Jr., executive director of the school. “My prayer is that when you meet Jesus, the first words out of his mouth will be, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”