Mount Pulaski High School celebrates 105th Annual Commencement Ceremony

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[May 26, 2017]  MOUNT PULASKI - On Saturday afternoon the skies cleared off beautifully just in time for the Mount Pulaski High School Class of 2017 to graduate. Thirty-nine students received their diplomas in the ceremony that lasted just over an hour in the Ed Butkovich Gymnasium.

Following the Presentation of the Colors by the Mount Pulaski American Legion Post #447, the traditional Processional “Pomp and Circumstance” by the MPHS Band and the Pledge of the Allegiance, led by Elijah Griesheim, the speakers took to the podium.

First up was TJ Benhart with the opening remarks. Benhart’s speech included many thank you’s and he also noted high school had been “the most fun four years of my life.” He also quoted a line from the Foo Fighters song “Learn to Fly.” The Dave Grohl inspired line is “Make my way back home when I learn to fly.” A very appropriate quote on this inspiring day. Benhart will attend the University of Illinois in the fall.

Next up was the 2017 Class President Lukas Aylesworth with his remarks. Aylesworth, who is easily one of the most likable to ever pass through the halls of MPHS, also thanked friends, family and teachers on this day before looking directly at his classmates seated before him and saying, “I will personally miss you guys greatly.”

Aylesworth also highlighted the changes the Class of 2017 had seen during their high school years. First he noted that he and his classmates had seen the passing of same-sex marriage legislation. Then as a diehard Cubs fan he beamed and said, “We had a change in World Series Champions.” This drew a round of applause throughout the gym, mixed with a few hoots and hollers. Next Aylesworth noted that there had been a change in Bruce Jenner while the Class of 2017 was in high school. Finally with a big grin, he said, “There was a huge (huuuggggeeee to be exact) change in presidents.”

Quoting George Bernard Shaw, the class president who will attend the University of Illinois in the fall, said, “Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Aylesworth ended by encouraging his classmates, “Don’t be afraid to embrace the change,” he said in closing.

Eli Olson (Valedictorian) and Zach Drake (Salutatorian) pose in the library of Mount Pulaski High School prior to the school’s 105th Annual Commencement Ceremony. 

Salutatorian Zach Drake, who is also bound for the University of Illinois, spoke next and his thank you’s also included “glory and thanks to the Lord.” Drake also noted how the Class of 2017 had recently been recipients of over $500,000 worth of scholarship money from the community and he said, still shaking his head in disbelief, “That is simply amazing.”

Drake also emphasized to his classmates that “failure is not an option.” He went on to encourage his fellow classmates by saying, ”Don’t let your grades reflect who you are.” He added, “We are all talented.” Continuing his motivational speech, Drake said, “Every single one of you has the potential to do great things in life. We all have our own God-given talents and abilities.”

Drake’s speech fit perfectly in the middle of graduation and may his positive words ring through the ears of his classmates for years to come.

Valedictorian Eli Olson was up next on the docket and this brilliant young mind is so far ahead in the future, his sense of humor and down to earth personality allows people to keep up.

Olson, who really does want to be an astronaut and will pursue his passion at Northeastern University in Boston, opened his speech by saying, “The world is opening up to us.” Olson then guided his class down a trip through memory lane. “Let’s take a journey and learn about how we got here today, with apologies to the Social Studies Department,” he said. He included little stories from preschool years through high school years that may or may not have included some inside jokes. Without cracking a smile, Olson quoted Troy Bolton when he said, “We’re breaking free.”

Olson also encouraged his classmates to “make the most of it” as he noted, “We are going out into the real world.”

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Olson also made reference in his speech to two influential men in his personal life, his grandfathers. “Make the most of it,” said Olson, whether it’s riding a Harley or getting to the fields.” His maternal grandfather, the late Roger Bockler, was an avid Harley-Davidson Motorcycle rider and his paternal grandfather, Dave Olson, was a farmer in rural Elkhart before his retirement. Olson concluded by telling his fellow graduates to “Go out there and explore the world and bring a little happiness to it.”

Next on the agenda was the Recognition of Scholastic Achievement. Principal Terry Morgan and Guidance Counselor Melanie Hinson brought to the stage a large number of students for this honor recognition.

As with all MPHS graduation ceremonies, one of the highlights continues to be the Senior Slide Presentation. Fun-filled photos and memorable music are featured on a large screen much to the delight of the crowd. This year’s fabulous display of memories was put together by Alexandra Beckers and Kaity Jason. Songs in the slide show included “How Far We’ve Come” by Matchbox Twenty, “Fast” by Luke Bryan, “Good Riddance” by Green Day and “Photograph” by Nickelback. The presentation not only included baby photos and senior pictures, but also highlighted memories from way back in the day (throwback to preschool and days at Zion and MPGS here) and the most recent school trips to Washington, D.C. and Chicago. A game at Wrigley Field and a grand slam by Javy Baez as the Cubs went on to “Fly the W” were the highlights of that recent senior trip to Chicago.

The real moment of accomplishment and ultimate photo opportunity came with the Awarding of Diplomas. School board members Jeff Beccue and Charles Hickey presented the thirty-nine students their diplomas. Lukas Aylesworth read each of the names of his fellow classmates as they were escorted to the stage. This is a most recent tradition that has begun at MPHS and it adds a nice personal touch. Alexandra Beckers read Aylesworth’s name, signaling the end of the presentation of diplomas.

As the last of the graduates returned to their seats, there was a pause after Mr. Morgan announced the class to the crowd, and finally the hats were tossed in the air. None of the hats stuck in the ceiling, so that was a success. This is Mr. Morgan’s eighth graduating class that he has presided over and year and year he continues to praise the students.

One more speech left and it would be class dismissed. Joshua Dyer gave the closing remarks, which again were filled with humor and maybe a touch of sarcasm. He mentioned the two things he totally did not do: 1) Definitely did NOT wait until the bus ride home from the senior trip on Thursday to start to think about this and to write this and 2) The second thing that absolutely NEVER happened was that he looked up on Google during this said bus ride “Best Graduation Closing Remarks of all time.

His speech also included something about seniors wearing sunscreen and as a music lover he just had to read a lyric from one of the greatest bands of all time, “I am the egg man, they are the egg men, I am the walrus, goo goo g’ joob goo goo g’ joob.”

His thank you’s were full of genuine sincerity and he hit the nail on the head when he said, “Thank you to Mr. Morgan for genuinely caring about the kids that go to our school.” He concluded with, “And most of all, thank you all for sitting through me speaking. Oh and one more thing, don’t forget the sunscreen? I don’t know guys.”

Joshua Dyer is a future Purdue Boilermaker, making his Indiana born and bred mom proud. Dad is proud, too.

Following the Retiring of the Colors and the Recessional “Pomp and Circumstance” the graduates gathered on the lawn outside the gymnasium to meet family and friends for photos.

Eli Olson taking the graduating class selfie in the library (this photo courtesy of Rob Siebert)

Congratulations to this outstanding group of young adults who are indeed ready to break free and embrace change. May the future be filled with much health and happiness for the Class of 2017.

[Teena Lowery]

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