Commencement activities for the Greencastle-Antrim High School Class of 2019 kicked off with the Senior Walk Wednesday morning and will conclude with graduation Saturday morning on Kaley Field.

There are several changes to graduation this year, some academic in origin and initiated in the district four years ago and some in response to a May letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

 Senior Walk 

This is the third year for the Senior Walk, in which the members of the Class of 2019 put on their caps and gowns for the first time, then walked through all the district buildings where they were enthusiastically greeted by students and teachers.

"Are you guys ready to rock?" asked Dr. Ed Rife, principal. Before the seniors left the high school auditorium, Rife cautioned them, "Don't lose your tassels, we don't have any extras."

The walk headed out the back of the high school and past Kaley Field to the primary, where the notes of encouragement, high fives and broad smiles began, with the trip down memory lane continuing to the elementary school.

Middle-schoolers holding signs lined the path between the elementary school and their building. On the blacktop, chalk messages included "Congrats, enjoy your life" and "You are big kids now."

After a lap through the middle school, seniors returned to the high school, where cheers echoed in the hallway.

 Latin honors

Jordan Manahan, president of the Class of 2019, is the only student speaker at commencement, which will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday. For the first time, there will be no valedictorian or salutatorian. However, more seniors than ever are being recognized for academic achievement, according to Dr. Ed Rife, G-AHS principal. He proposed the changes to the school board in 2015, when the current seniors were in eighth grade.

Based on research and talking with other school districts and colleges, G-A evaluated its system with valedictorian, salutatorian and top 20 class ranking. Some students were not taking challenging classes which could impact their class ranking or chance to speak at graduation. In addition, minuscule numbers were separating the top 20 from the top 21 or 28, Rife explained.

The Latin honors system "creates a standard measure of excellence," encourages students to take a higher level of classes and creates "an academic environment of collaboration instead of competition," Rife said.

The Latin system, launched in G-A in 2016, has three tiers of graduation honors based on grade-point average, not class ranking — cum laude, 3.5 to 3.74; magna cum laude, 3.75 to 3.99; and summa cum laude, 4.0 or above, factoring in weighted grades for AP and college-level classes.

 Speakers 

Also new this year is participation by the Greencastle-Antrim Alumni Association, with Vernon McCauley, G-AHS Class of 1974, speaking and representatives of the association welcoming the new alumni as they return to their seats after receiving their diplomas.

The main speaker will be retired U.S. Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers, whose wife, Dana Walck, graduated from G-AHS in 1980.

Rogers retired from the U.S. Navy in 2018 after nearly 37 years of service, rising to the rank of four-star admiral. He culminated his career with a four-year tour as commander, U.S. Cyber Command, and director, National Security Agency, creating the Department of Defense's newest combatant command and running the U.S. government’s largest intelligence organization. In those roles, he worked with the leadership of the U.S. government, the DoD and the U.S. intelligence community as well as their international counterparts in the conduct of cyber and intelligence activity across the globe. He is currently supporting companies in the private sector, serving as a member of various boards or acting as a senior adviser. He also speaks globally to various business and academic groups and is working internationally in the cyber and national security arenas.

Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent, also will offer remarks.

Baccalaureate 

A May 24 letter to seniors and their families from the superintendent informed them of changes made in response to a letter earlier in the month from a staff attorney representing Americans United for Separation of Church and State regarding the district's involvement with baccalaureate practice and the Thursday service.

Baccalaureate and commencement practice, previously held at the same time, were scheduled at different times.

Concerning baccalaureate, Trail wrote, "This practice is no longer mandatory as it will now only focus on Baccalaureate preparation. Only students participating in Baccalaureate will need to attend this practice. This rehearsal will be administered by the Greencastle-Antrim Ministerium and community volunteers, as Baccalaureate is not a district sponsored program."

Trail apologized for the unexpected changes and wrote, "I look forward to celebrating this important milestone with all of you."

In addition, a moment of silence rather than a prayer is planned during Saturday's commencement ceremony.