Small CIA class filled with big dreams

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Family, friends and fellow students gathered Sunday afternoon for the commencement ceremony at Cook Inlet Academy in the CIA Memorial Gymnasium.

On either side of the decorated podium were tables filled with photos, memorable items and gifts for each of the six graduates.

Scented candles burned as passersby smiled and giggled as they remembered each student who attended the private school.

Chuck Crapuchettes, principal of the academy, thanked the crowed for attending and introduced the Class of 2001.

Six graduates walked through the crowd to the front of the room to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." Some stopped to hug parents before sitting down in their designated seats.

The crowd then rose for the invocation by Larry Huntsperger.

The song "I Will Be There for You," was performed by Melodie Symington. She gently wiped a tear from her eye as the song ended -- a sentiment shared by others in the crowd.

Crapuchettes then asked the students to present their speeches.

Eric Minelga, class valedictorian, approached the podium and read a biblical verse from Corinthians. He then thanked everyone who had helped him.

Brittany Leiter, class salutatorian, first said thank you to those important in her life and then told the class a story.

The story was of a rich executive who was driving around town in his Jaguar. As he was driving, someone threw a brick at his car, which hit his side door. He stopped and drove back to where the brick was thrown, noticed a kid and began questioning him harshly. He asked the boy why he threw a brick at the car and the boy replied that the brick was the only way he could get some attention. The boy was trying to get help for his brother who had fallen off his wheelchair and was hurt.

The man helped the injured boy back in his wheelchair and the boys went home. The man, who felt badly, never fixed the dent in the side of his car to remind him that no one should have to throw a brick at him to get his attention about the important things in life.

Kristen Zimmerman was next up.

"Just ... thank you," she said.

Cameron O'Connell was the last of the student speakers. She discussed the greatest pitfall and asset of her generation. She said the pitfall was it lacked compassion and often were self-absorbed.

But, she said, she believed she and her classmates have received a moral education and her generation is not composed of little heartless monsters.

"Slowly, my generation is seeing the light, and I know my class will be a city on the hill," she said.

After the speeches, the class converged on stage and presented Crapuchettes and the school with a banner.

The lights went out and a slide show was presented. Pictures of each student were displayed on the front wall. Images of who the students were and what they had become graced the wall as the crowd witnessed the gradual changes.

Gary Leiter, father of Brittany, stepped on the stage to give his speech to the seniors and crowd.

He said he could not help feeling fatherly to most of the students because he had helped to raise many of them in some way.

Because he did not want his speech to be forgotten, he handed each senior a laminated card with "The 31 things I taught you that I'm sure you forgot."

He then read the 31 tips to the crowd. They included being honest, learning to compliment honestly, respecting your parents and his last message:

"Remember to do things to please God, not because he will love you more, because he loves you so much," he said.

He then stepped off the stage and hugged his daughter before taking his seat.

Crapuchettes introduced Mike Nugent of Agrium, who awarded Eric Minelga a $1,000 scholarship.

It was then the moment they all had waited for.

Crapuchettes called each of the six students to approach the stage for their diploma. As he introduced each one, he shared what institution the student would attend in the fall and what other scholarships they had been awarded.

Huntsperger then presented the benediction, and Minelga directed the turning of the tassels.

"I know we are all going to do well in life," O'Connell said earlier that day. "(Graduation) is going to be a great experience."

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