The audience stood and cheered as 139 young men and women proudly filed into the Skyview High School gymnasium south of Soldotna for their commencement ceremony Wednesday evening. Above them spread a banner reading "Our past is behind us; our present is with us; our future in the new century will be waiting for us" -- the class motto coined by senior Auneka Timblin.
The Class of 2000 stands out not only for its place on the hinge of historical eras, but at Skyview for its energy and quirky individualism. Guest speaker Rob Sparks, teacher and class adviser, told the graduates that they had been both a challenge and an inspiration to the faculty with their questioning and exuberance.
As an example, he alluded to a group of students who intentionally did poorly on the standardized California Achievement Test. Such student protests against homogenized educational standard measures are spreading throughout the nation, he noted.
"The class demanded individual instruction and refused to be molded," he said. "You cannot measure the strength of this class with pencil and paper. Their strength is in the heart."
Their energy reminded him of the idealism of youth and how he had missed it in past years when teens sounded like jaded and disgruntled adults. The outgoing seniors have asked teachers a lot of probing, thought-provoking questions and pushed boundaries on the road to maturity, he said.
"They have not let themselves be led on a leash," he said.
Sparks urged them to keep that energy while gaining respect for the wisdom of their elders.
"You have rekindled my hope in the future," he told them. "Thank you for four powerful years. You will not be forgotten."
Laura Endries, treasurer of the student executive board, had high praises for Sparks' role when she introduced him.
"He has been at our side for the past four years," she said, as students gave their former teacher a standing ovation.
The musical selections were an integral part of the evening. The most emotional moment came when Katie Darling, accompanied by her brother, Neil, sang "Letting Go," a gentle song about children leaving home to strike out on their own. Her heartfelt performance brought tears to people's eyes.
Also performing were the Skyview Band, the Skyview Swing Choir, Jodi Hendrickson and Shiela Isaak, who sang "The Star Spangled Banner."
The national anthem was not Isaak's only high note of the evening. The talented young lady also was the class valedictorian. Her address to the audience was brief.
"Always remember it is your day to shine," she told her classmates.
She emphasized thanking families and educators for their role in bringing her generation this far, and ended with the musical benediction, "As You Go On Your Way."
Salutatorian Abby Barnes spoke of changes the students had gone through, the turning point graduation represented and the challenges ahead.
Assistant Superintendent Todd Syverson, and school board members Nels Anderson and Deborah Mullins joined teachers Paul Zobeck, Terri Zopf-Schloessler, Dale Moon and Curtis Terrill in presenting the diplomas.
Monica Downing, Autumn Thurmond and Jessica Dalebout gave a slide show. The turning of the tassels was led by Endries, Brittany Swanson and Stephanie St.Clair, who also gave the greeting. Blake Colton, executive board president, made the closing remarks.
Principal John Pothast summed up the essence of the gathering when he presented the class to the community.
He called graduation a paradox of the mixed emotions of anticipation and apprehension.
The Class of 2000 always has had a mystique because of the year, he noted.
"I have no doubt you will have tremendous success," he told them. "You do hold a special place in history, but that history is just beginning."
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