There was something in the air Wednesday night in the Kenai Central High School Auditorium. Cameras were clicking, bulbs were flashing, videotapes were rolling.
The seats were stuffed to the balcony. Family and friends took standing room against the walls. Nervous smiles slow-stepping down the aisle to the beat of "Pomp and Circumstance" toward the stage began to stir the air.
Directed by Deborah Sounart, the KCHS band played as 85 robed young men and women wearing mortar board hats, some adorned with memorabilia, marched to the music. As one of the keynote speakers, Liz Burck, later said, they were walking into that pause between high school graduation and their future. The class motto, appropriately, was "Finished, yet just begun."
Still, there was more in the air. "The Star Spangled Banner," sung in joyful harmony by graduates Kim Allen, Julianne Awrey, Kjersta Larson and Macy Nicho-las, set the mood for the evening. It was followed by Jessi Reilly's opening remarks and a prayer. Next, Joe Shaw introduced the visiting guests who would present the diplomas: Todd Syverson, assistant superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District; Dr. Nels Anderson and Sammy Crawford of the school board; and teachers Liz Burck, Tom Burck, Renee Henderson and Jim Beeson.
Sam Stewart, KCHS principal, bestowed honor to retiring art and photo teacher, Mark Burgener, then introduced the four graduating foreign exchange students from Puerto Rico, Japan, Brazil and Switzerland.
The air then was offered youthful wisdom. Valedictorian KT Peters introduced Steven Campanella and Eric Purugganan, senior class speakers. The pair stood at the podium together. They first toyed with teachers and parents as they recounted escapades. Then the humor receded, and the message was heartfelt as the two thanked teachers and coaches for their support. "Tonight is why we came here."
The pair challenged the class of 2001 to be themselves, whether it be poet or athlete, to risk taking a chance, to push themselves.
"You alone know your limit," they said. "Some will leave, and some will stay."
The gracious challenge was to be a class that "not only gains something but leaves something."
"Find your strengths and weaknesses," they said.
Next, the valedictorians took the podium: Ross Baldwin, Kjersta Larson, Ingrid Paskewitz, and KT Peters. They were joined by the sole salutatorian, Julianne Awrey. Their address was delivered chorus style, as each spoke in short sentences, then yielded the floor to another.
"Learn to think for yourself," they said.
The class was asked to never forget: "Cherish the time you spent together. Abandon your prejudices."
Seriousness mixed with humor as the five speculated on the future of individuals in the class.
An analogy was made between rocks and sand-- the sand being the little things, and the rocks being the important things: "If you spend all your time with the little things, you will ignore the important things. Set your priorities and all will fall into place."
Be responsible, be trustworthy, "responsibility is up to us."
Following the address, the Senior Choir sang "I Will Remember," followed by two selections by the KCHS Choir -- "Weep, O Mine Eyes" and "That Lonesome Road" with Tenor Brad Burck performing a solo.
The commencement address, titled "A Parent's Perspective" and presented by teachers Liz and Tom Burck, warmed the evening air.
"Not many parents can say that they were given a mike at their child's graduation," Liz said.
Having watched the entire class progress over the years, the Burcks came prepared with props, a bag of tricks and a message for all. Calendars that had been marked for graduation since 1982 were mentioned.
Baby hats were produced and opposed to mortared hats representing "brains that have come far and will grow more," Tom said.
Liz told graduates she wanted them to know how special they were. To prove they truly cared, the Burcks took the time to mention something they would miss about each of the 85 graduates.
Warmth and caring was the ultimate message from the Burcks. Liz, fighting tears, alluded to how the string on a kite grows longer and weaker at the same time that the kite grows stronger. Until finally, the kite breaks free.
The Senior Slide Show, edited by Olga Timofeeva, brought the air back to a lighter vein. Hoots and cheers accompanied the images.
"Fair Kenai" was then sung a capella by Steven Campanella, Quinn Brow, Brad Burck and Micah Houtz.
The class of 2001 then walked the walk. Principal Stewart presented the class of 2001. Each graduate accepted their diploma, handed a kiss to the big red "K" downstage center and returned to their seats. Natalie Mills announced the closing. KT Peters and Jessi Reilly directed the turning of the tassels. The class song, "Here's to the Night," played. The balloons fell. The air was full.
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