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Themes of change and obstacles overcome were abundant — and appropriate — in the graduation speeches Saturday at Columbus North and East high schools.
The seniors started their high school careers on the heels of the June 2008 flood, which caused serious damage to parts of Columbus. And the students endured long-term inconveniences during renovations at their schools.
But in the end, a class of 418 students at North and a class of 341 at East achieved a lot in order to graduate.
"We've all grown physically and mentally. ...We persevered," North's valedictorian, Jessie Chijia Chen, said to a crowd that mostly filled Memorial Gymnasium.
Unique experiences shaped the seniors, and the class accomplished many things and learned about responsibility and leadership, said North's salutatorian, Sage Elizabeth Mitch.
North Principal David Clark noted that the seniors earned more than $11 million in scholarships and helped win a slew of athletic and academic titles.
"We are a special class," North's senior class president, Slater Worthington Long, said of the graduates.
Teresa Lynn Wicczynski, East's salutatorian, told classmates to take a deep breath, take a look around, and take in all the sights and sounds before crossing into the next phase of their lives. She wanted them to think of the significance of graduating.
"To be in this spot right here, I had to work so hard," she said before a standing-room-only crowd in East's main gym.
Getting to this point, she said, involved understanding feelings of confusion about who you are as a person, and the challenges of friendships and family.
Natalie Giselle Burgos, East's valedictorian, compared life to a food buffet as she imparted advice to her classmates about the future.
She said, "You won't know everything" and added, "Don't be afraid of new things." Burgos also urged them to splurge once in a while to celebrate their hard work.
Bartholomew County School Corp. Superintendent John Quick took a moment at each commencement ceremony to recognize the hard work and accomplishments of the students. He mentioned athletic and academic successes, and how one student's senior projects led to safer crosswalks around town.
East Principal Mark Newell echoed sentiments expressed earlier by Clark when thinking of what the students have accomplished and what they have yet to accomplish.
"I'm very happy and excited for all of you ... and what lies ahead before you," Newell said.
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