Leading 275 students onto the field of Clem Senn Field, 80-year-old Roy Culver was the oldest graduate to receive his diploma at the Sunnyside High School commencement exercise last Friday night.
Culver graduated as part of the Operation Recognition program, which allows military veterans who left school early to join World War II ranks to receive high school diplomas. As a part of the ceremony Culver not only received his diploma, but a long-awaited standing ovation from the crowd.
Culver's recognition set the tone of the event, at which both Sunnyside School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole and class speaker, American History and CWP teacher Monty Johnson, encouraged the young graduates to be part of their communities and vote.
Cole also encouraged the graduates to, no later than Saturday, sit down and think about what their goals are and to raise them.
"It's important to set your goals high because you can do it," said Cole. "You are successful. Don't be afraid to fail or challenge your future."
Johnson addressed the class saying, "You're the sons and daughters of this community. Take pride in yourselves. We have invested in you and we have invested well."
He said there is much that faces the graduates as they leave Sunnyside and enter the world.
Johnson said as Sunnyside thrives and grows local residents will try to better it with our own interests in mind, to draw back some of the recent graduates.
He encouraged the youths to become a part of their community, whether it be Sunnyside or another town. He encouraged the youths to find a community and become a volunteer, join a service club or help a friend in need.
"Don't consider your education complete," he said, encouraging the young adults to be constant learners, informing themselves about what is going on in the world around them.
He also encouraged the youths to participate in the country's democracy.
"Many of you are 18, or soon will be. I encourage you to vote this fall," said Johnson.
He added that to vote and not know what you're voting for is worse than not voting at all.
"I know the world holds a lot for you," said Johnson. "So be informed, participate in the process and never ever sell yourselves short."
Also speaking at the graduation were salutatorian Amy Kilian and co-valedictorians Stacey Gorski and Joshua Barr.
Kilian said as an eighth grader she was sick a lot and her grades began to slip. In danger of getting a C, she went to her teacher to beg for a better grade.
In her mind, Kilian said, the sky turned black, the teacher sprouted devil horns and bellowed down on her NO!, when in fact that was all in her mind.
In reality, Kilian said, when she was in eighth grade she was able to get a B in the class she was afraid she would get a C in and it was the last B she ever got. Kilian said memories are just fact-perception and image.
"Scientists have proven that you choose how you remember things," said Kilian.
Kilian said she will always remember the funny moments with her classmates, including the slow-motion portions of the drama club's presentation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
She said if her fellow classmates' memories include Miss Schuette sending them home because their shorts had a 2" inseam, they probably shouldn't wear those shorts to a job interview.
She encouraged her classmates as they leave Sunnyside High School to spice up their lives, just like they spice up their memories.
Barr said that it was eight years before that he decided to be valedictorian. He said it was because of friends, teachers and family that he was able to make it.
"For better or for worse they form the core of who you are," said Barr.
As a middle school student, Barr remembers the day his father asked him if he wanted to go to the library.
"Now, it wasn't the library downtown, but it was the one in Richland," said Barr, explaining that his father took four hours out of his life just to take him to the library.
"The little things can mean so much," said Barr, who is always reading, which he said has been instrumental in his academic success.
Barr said as a youngster he didn't want to learn to read, but his mother got him interested, which changed his life.
As a second grader, Barr remembers being punished for reading ahead, which almost squelched his interest in education.
"Teachers," he said, "Your job is not just to guide your students though a series of lessons. Don't worry about what they'll learn next year, there are always things to learn."
Barr said that through his life, God has been his strength.
"He has been my shield, my rock and my saviour," he said.
Gorski, an award-winning science fair contest participant, examined the class of 2004 as if it were a science fair project.
She said the class of 2004 science fair project would be called "Driven, Determined and Dedicated."
She said her classmates have not only shown these qualities in their success, but also in their friendships to each other.
The hypotheses of the project, she said, is "We, the class of 2004, can conquer and do anything with hard work, diligence and creativity."
The goal of the project is to use creativity, put in all you have, be diligent and successful, Gorski said.
She said the class has plenty of evidence to support the goals for their projects with pictures of family and friends, state games and meets traveled to, some of which were won and some lost, drama productions, homecoming and Senior Follies, which raised $2,100.
She said the conclusion would read that the class of 2004 can conquer anything because they are driven, determined and dedicated.
"You see," she said, "It's scientifically proven that you will succeed."
Gorski was later presented the Outstanding Senior Girl award. Tanner Kellogg was named Outstanding Senior Boy. Outstanding Senior Boy Athlete was awarded to R.J. Elizondo and Isley Gonzalez was presented Outstanding Senior Girl Athlete.