Columbus East’s high school’s graduating seniors expressed excitement about moving on to the next steps in their lives, but a packed gymnasium and the messages of the speakers demonstrated the importance of celebrating the moment at hand.

Every possible seat in the school gym was filled, and parents, relatives and friends stood along the adjoining hallways and balconies for the East’s 44th annual commencement ceremony.

Class Salutatorian Derrick Klinker spoke first and reminded his fellow graduates that they had all accomplished something important.

“Each of us is unique, but we have all accomplished this,” Klinker said.

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He mentioned accomplishments the senior class had made in athletics, and their contributions to the community through senior projects. Klinker also noted their attainment of more than $13 million in academic awards.

Klinker finished his address by encouraging his fellow graduates to go with “excitement” into the world awaiting them.

Valedictorian Aaron Villiger also complimented his fellow graduates on their accomplishments by saying, “We all made it here today. For some it was more difficult than for others, but we all made it. We are together this day.”

Villiger also encouraged his classmates that more accomplishments awaited them in the world.

East Principal Mark Newell followed Villiger’s address with more words of encouragement for the Class of 2017, but also reminded the graduates that they would face ups and downs and would need a strong character to get through life.

“Develop your own character, then make it stronger as you go,” Newell said.

After the ceremony, graduates left the gymnasium in order, removed their caps and gowns and began their celebrations.

Wade Foreman said he was happy to graduate.

“Its a great pressure to get off my shoulders. Now, I can move on to the next part of my life,” he said.

Foreman will attend the University of Indianapolis, where he will play football.

Some students said they also would be a little sad to leave East.

“Columbus East is a great school, and I am really proud to be able to graduate from this school. I will miss it and the great, great teachers they have here,”┬áVictoria Hawkins said.

She will attend Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus.

“I am really, really sad about graduating. I will miss being at Columbus East,” said Becca Bryan, who plans to attend Ivy Tech in Columbus in the fall.

About the class

Graduates: 302

Valedictorian: Aaron Villiger

Salutatorian: Derrick Klinker