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Ceremony full of emotion for Prairie Ridge seniors

Prairie Ridge graduates throw their caps in the air Saturday during the Prairie Ridge 
High School commencement ceremony.
Prairie Ridge graduates throw their caps in the air Saturday during the Prairie Ridge High School commencement ceremony.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Hailey Kenny and her mother, Elaine Dorrer, stood along the western edge of the sidewalk just below the announcer’s booth at the Prairie Ridge High School football stadium. 

Hailey Kenny aimed her cellphone camera at the maroon-clad seniors gathering in a broad rectangle on the field below, trying to time the click for a break in the steady stream of people still finding their seats Saturday morning.

“I have mixed emotions,” Hailey Kenny said as she explained that her youngest of two children, Ben, was about to graduate. “I’m sad and happy. I feel old … but I’m really happy for what he’s going to be doing in the future.”

Like his 387 classmates, Benjamin Kenny soon would say goodbye to Prairie Ridge and hello to life after high school. For Benjamin Kenny, that will include the Army ROTC program and civil engineering studies at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. 

A bit further to the north on the stadium grounds, the steep grass hillside was dotted with men and women, boys and girls, umbrellas, blankets and lawn chairs. 

Larry and Jan Pollastrini found a spot near the top of the hill to watch the graduation of their 18-year-old daughter, Rachel, the third of five daughters and a son, all ranging in age from 9 to 22. Four of Rachel’s siblings and two of her grandmothers also were there to watch.

“It’s exciting to see them move to the next level,” Larry Pollastrini said. “High school is tough. It’s a tough age. But how they develop from when they start until they graduate – I feel pretty good that she’s ready to go to college.”

Principal Steve Koch declared the Class of 2014 ready – ready to choose their life’s direction, ready to succeed in the face of adversity and ready to put their stamp on the world. 

PHOTO GALLERY: See the best photos from the Prairie Ridge High School commencement ceremony.

“Know thyself,” Koch said to the class. “The better you know thyself, the better your chances of finding success, however you envision it.”

Class valedictorian Fatima Khan, who achieved a grade point average of just more than 4.8, and salutatorian Anita Venkataswamy, whose grade point average was less than 4.8, also addressed the crowd; as did Neil Pretkelis, this year’s Booster Club Scholarship winner, a Madrigal, speech team member and a regular on the school stage. 

Pretkelis talked about “Toy Story 3,” mentioning that, like the Andy of the film, many of the graduating seniors, too, soon would be off to college. For all, he said, it’s a time of leaving toys and childhood behind. 

“Just like in ‘Toy Story 3,’ we’ve grown so much, but there is still so much growing to do,” Pretkelis said. “I challenge you to remember the past, but tackle the future. And if you do, we’ll all make it to infinity and beyond.”

Recent University of Wisconsin – Madison graduate Jake Pollastrini said his sister and her classmates have a solid foundation on which to build. 

“Accomplishing my goal of achieving a degree in mechanical engineering was set up by a great experience here at Prairie Ridge,” he said. “It’s exciting to me to think about where my sister, Rachel, and the rest of the graduates will be in four years.”

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