HOPE – The Hauser High School gymnasium was full of smiles Friday evening as 50 graduating seniors said farewell and were ushered into a new chapter in their lives.

Change was likely on the minds of many graduates, including valedictorian Pete Trotter, who focused on that theme during his valedictory address. Trotter told his fellow students that while he struggled to come up with a topic for his speech, change seemed to be an appropriate one.

“All of us will have to learn how to live independently,” Trotter said.

Trotter, who plans to attend Wabash College to study pre-medicine, credited his family and teachers at Hauser for helping him along.

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Principal J.P. Mayer thanked Hauser staff members, teachers and administration leaders for their involvement in helping students get to where they are.

“Our seniors have worked hard for this moment,” he said.

The principal also mentioned that out of the graduating senior class, six planned to join the military, which drew cheers and applause from the audience.

He also gave the group some words of wisdom, showing them his own personal journal before flipping to a blank page.

“You begin a new chapter — the book of you,” Mayer said.

Salutatorian Gwen Shoaf told her fellow classmates that the group has accomplished many things in their high school career.

“We have come a long way,” she said.

Graduating senior Lillie Cornett was among the group of eager students ready for the next step of her life, describing graduation as a special occasion.

“It means a lot that I’m graduating with people I’ve known for so long,” Cornett said.

She plans to enter the U.S. Navy and is headed to Naval Station Great Lakes in Chicago for basic training in Chicago, following the footsteps of several family members to serve her country.

For fellow student Michaela Fletcher, she wasn’t sure what exactly lies ahead in her future, although she said she planned to “go straight to work and make money.”

Fletcher completed her perfect attendance record by graduating from Hauser without missing a day of school in her entire school career — including kindergarten.

Her achievement was confirmed by Mayer, who said in his 23 years of being an educator, “I’ve never seen anything close to that.”

Mayer said there have been just a handful of students at the high school who have never been absent during his tenure.

Fletcher said although her mother died in January, she still managed to attend school and hoped that her mom would be proud of her achievements.

“I feel very accomplished and I hope my mom is happy,” Fletcher said.

However, Trotter, who hopes to be a pediatrician someday, described the next chapter of his life ahead as “bittersweet.”

“I’m nervous, but extremely happy,” Trotter said. “I just want to thank everyone who’s been there and pushed me.”

Other students, such as Hailey Lange, were ready to move ahead in furthering their education. She plans to study communications at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, she said.

Although she said she enjoyed how close the senior class has been during high school, Lange was also ready for a new beginning.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,” she said. “I’m looking for a new path.”

Hauser Class of 2017

Graduates: 50

Valedictorian: Pete Trotter

Salutatorian: Gwen Shoaf

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com