Thursday it was the Soldotna High School Class of 2000's turn to step forward and claim diplomas.
Sentiments of fun and fondness marked the occasion.
When salutatorian Sarah Daigle asked her classmates if any of them enjoyed their time at SoHi, all of them immediately stood up.
"I am proud of everyone and extremely proud of my class," she said.
Jessica Foster, the first of four valedictorians who addressed the audience, echoed that upbeat attitude as she recounted a litany of memorably silly events.
"Remember all the fun we had?" she asked her classmates, before concluding, "To quote Bill and Ted, we have had a most excellent adventure."
Tara Cutting showed the more serious side of SoHi. She quoted dictums from Winston Churchill and Mother Theresa on persisting in the face of adversity.
It was a moving, personal message from the pale young woman who survived a two-year ordeal of brain cancer and radiation treatments yet managed to maintain a perfect A grade average.
"Never give up," she told the group. "The only reason I made it through chemotherapy was trust in God."
Demonstrating how deeply Cutting's courage and accomplishments have touched the school and community, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
Sarah Histand spoke on themes of positive change.
"It's incredible how much we've grown up since we started school," she told her classmates.
Eric Romberg, the last valedictory speaker, reflected on the more philosophical aspects of what the students had learned about themselves and the world. The experiences had left him with a curiosity about learning more and a conviction that inner strength makes miracles possible.
Alluding to Cutting's medical challenges, he said, "Every day we have seen the impossible happen."
The students chose two of their teachers as the main commencement speakers.
"After 16 years of teaching, this is by far the greatest honor that has been bestowed on me," said science teacher Patrick Nolden.
The Class of 2000 has gone through a remarkable evolution, he noted.
"As freshmen, they were absolute squirrels," he said. "But the quiet people have gotten louder, and the loud kids have gotten quiet."
Nolden offered a bit of advice, after noting mixed feelings about the role of adviser.
"What is the difference between a 4.0 (grade point average) and a 2.0? After 16 years of teaching, I know it is effort," he said.
Effort and self-discipline are keys to surviving and thriving in the adult world, he warned them.
"Discipline yourself -- so others don't have to," he said, quoting from a coach he knew.
The other keynote speaker was English and drama teacher Michael Druce. He spoke with gravity and eloquence about how the aspirations of young people sometimes conflict with those of well-meaning teachers and other adults.
"We look at your life from a point in our pasts," he said, speaking as an adult addressing the teens.
"How often do we ignore how we really feel?" he said. "I think disappointment is much easier to live with than regret."
He urged each of them to listen to their inner voice for direction.
"That voice does not go away as you get older," he said. "It just gets louder."
The senior class officers (President Justin Thompson, Vice President Katy Bowman, Secretary Tiffany Payment and Treasurer Cassie Smith) gave a light-hearted version of "Things I Learned at High School." The listing included some local color (such as noting that no matter what time of night someone stops at Sal's Klondike Diner, they will meet people they know) and more universal truths (such as you always will be remembered for your most embarrassing moments).
Musical performances also added to the sentiment of the evening. Especially touching was Thompson's rendition of "It's Your Song," which he dedicated to his mother in the audience. Other performers were Kelly Martin, Nicole Knight, Meri Clare, Allison Senette, the senior band members and the Soldotna High Symphonic Band.
Thompson, Bowman and James McCoy put together the multimedia presentation, which included skillful digital video edits and effects.
The 127 students made a particular point of thanking the families, educators and community members who helped them on their way.
Students had an opportunity to present cream-colored rose blossoms to the people they loved, and mothers dabbed away tears as their tall sons handed them flowers.
Lorraine Spady made the closing remarks, telling her classmates, "Whatever path you take, remember the Lord has plans for you."
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