Diplomas were awarded to the 231 members of the Greencastle-Antrim High School Class of 2019 during commencement Saturday morning on Kaley Field.
Success, relationships, the journey of life and the importance of their roots were among the messages to graduates from speakers at the ceremony.
Welcome from the president
Class President Jordan Manahan gave welcoming remarks, focusing on relationships.
"One of my favorite things about Greencastle is that you stick together as a class throughout all 13 years of your education," Manahan said, sharing a story about his friend since kindergarten, Taylor McFetridge, as well as memories the class has made together.
"However, let us not forget our most important relationship: God," he continued, offering a prayer thanking God for his "provisions of these last 13 years and particularly the past four that we celebrate today. We ask for your hedge of protection as each of us goes out into the world to walk the life you planned for us ..."
A moment of silence was observed earlier in the program in lieu of a prayer as the result of a letter the district received in May from Americans for Separation of Church and State and applause erupted from the crowd in the bleachers as Manahan said, "Amen."
"At this point in our lives, it is easy to become self-centered. We are finding our own paths: each choosing a career, significant other, home and so many other factors that we focus on ourselves," Manahan said. "People pack the stands right now who have guided you along the way. Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, mentors and teachers all give you advice, point you in a direction, help you emotionally and mentally and support you. Notice these actions are in present tense. They do not stop today, but continue forever. Relationships form the backbone of our lives. Nothing in life is worth pursuing that neglects this fact."
Manahan concluded, "Class of 2019, we did it. And we did it better than it has ever been done before."
'Qualities of success'
Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent, spoke next, talking about "essential qualities of success."
Trail differed with a dictionary definition of success as "attaining wealth, prosperity and/or fame."
Her three keys to success:Doing your best, being determined and persevering through challenging times.
"No matter what path you have chosen when you leave G-AHS today, whether you go to college, a technical school, the military or the work force, remember to always do your best. Such a simple slogan, but powerful words," Trail said.Treating others the way you want to be treated.
Trail talked about a bank account and how if more money is withdrawn than deposited "you become bankrupt."
She cited the emotional bank account identified by Stephen Covey, known for his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." Deposits in the emotional bank account include kindness, courtesy, making apologies and keep promises. Withdrawals include being rude, breaking promises, being disloyal, displaying pride and arrogance.
"Treat others the way you want to be treated and choose your words wisely, because you can't take them back once words are spoken," she advisedBeing a person of integrity.
"What is integrity? It is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles," Trail said, explaining signs of integrity are always telling the truth and accepting the consequences; standing for what you believe in; admitting when you are wrong; and being willing to forgive others.
'Life is a journey'
The guest speaker, retired Adm. Michael S. Rogers, quickly put his audience at ease by explaining he goes by "Mike" and the most important thing about him that he has been married to "a girl from Greencastle" for 34 years. His wife, Dana, a 1980 graduate of Greencastle-Antrim High School, is the daughter of Bud and Marley Walck of Greencastle.
Rogers loosened things up by having the graduates stand and give high fives to each other, then wave to everyone in the stands because "it took a family to get you here."
He asked family and friends of the graduates stand up, then recognized the teachers seated on the field.
"My brother has been a teacher for 25 years. He has far more impact than I ever have or ever will," said Rogers, whose 37 years of naval service culminated with a four-year tour as commander, U.S. Cyber Command, and director of the National Security Agency.
"Life is a journey and there's no path. Only you can decide what's right for you," said Rogers, who later explained, "Success is something you must define."
People are what make the journey worthwhile in the end, said Rogers, noting he's almost 60 and still communicates and spends time with people he's known since high school.
As members of the Class of 2019 take their journey in life, he reminded them to remember where they came from. There is something special about a community that works hard to bring people together, said Rogers, who has spent years coming back to Greencastle for events like the Rescue Hose Co. minstrel show and Old Home Week and has "a personal love of Mikie's ice cream."
He ended by urging the graduates to do their part in a polarized nation.
"Let's work together to make this a better country ... It's not just a flag, it represents a set of ideals," Rogers said. "There's a reason why there's no better place to live than the United States of America, as imperfect as it is."
Where they came from also was emphasized by Vernon McCauley, a 1974 Greencastle-Antrim High School graduate, who heads the alumni relations committee of the Greencastle-Antrim Education Foundation and also is known as the voice of Blue Devil football.
It's been 45 years since he graduated, but McCauley told members of the Class of 2019 "we now share a common thread."
For the first time this year, representatives of the alumni association welcomed each graduate into the association after they received their diplomas and gave them a packet containing, information on GAEF, a G-A Alum car window cling, a congratulations card, complimentary membership and a G-A Alumni Association pin.
“We want to re-engage with all G-A alums from the past and implement a way stay connected with our newest graduates,” Cheryl Brown, executive director of GAEF, said in a news release announcing the new graduation feature.
“Whether local or across the country, G-A alums are making a difference. We look forward to showcasing their achievements and engaging them to continue to support the mission of GAEF, which is to enhance academics, arts and athletics in the Greencastle-Antrim School District,” Brown said.
"This is Greencastle, this is the best small town in America," McCauley said. "Our roots run deep and our roots run far. These Greencastle roots will follow you wherever you go ... These same Greencastle roots will always lead you back home."
This is the first year graduation did not feature a salutatorian and valedictorian as the district has moved to the Latin honors system, recognizing more students for their GPAs rather than just the top 20 receiving honors.
Dr. Ed Rife, G-AHS principal, pointed out that 31 students were graduating cum laude, with honor, for GPAs of 3.5 to 3.74; 38 magna cum laude, with great honor, for GPAs of 3.75 to 3.99; and 49 summa cum laude, highest honor, for GPAs of 4.0 or higher.
He cited the "character, passion and dedication of the class," before asking graduate Caylen David, to share the speech he made on Decision Day, when seniors announced their plans for the future.
"There is only one of you. You are all equally important, necessary and unique. Try to make this world a better place with your unique footprint," David said.
After David spoke and before the awarding of diplomas and the explosion of Silly String and flying mortarboards signaled the culmination of the ceremony, Rife said, "We are all part of the G-A family and we are all G-A proud."
Editor's note: A supplement featuring photos of all the graduates and more pictures from graduation will appear in the Echo Pilot on June 11.