After parents crowded in and around the stands in the Garden City High School gymnasium, and students in brown and white gowns wound their way to their seats, GCHS principal Steve Nordby took a moment to commend the soon-to-be graduates on their sheer grit.

“This group of students never let any obstacle stand in their way. When they set their sights on an achievement, they worked until the job was done,” Nordby said.

At the GCHS graduation on Saturday night, the focus was largely on who this year’s graduates were and what they could do. As Nordby and student speakers said, the 400-plus graduates that made up the class of 2018 benefitted from their diversity and succeeded because of their relentless drive.

Nordby said the students sitting before him often would approach school faculty and administration with ambitious plans.

“After they pitched their latest scheme to us, we would inevitably say, ‘That sounds like fun. Let’s try it.’ And then we would begin to discuss how much trouble we would be in if they actually pulled this off,” Nordby told those in attendance.

This year, several students wanted to resurrect the GCHS tradition of a live buffalo, the school’s mascot, running on the school’s football field before a game, Nordby said. He said the school approved the plan for one home game but left the organization up to the students. Nordby said he didn’t expect them to get far. The seniors proved him wrong.

“And on Oct. 20, 2017, a live buffalo ran on the field at a Garden City home game for the first time in over 20 years because these kids wouldn’t take no for an answer...” he said.

Throughout the night, the audience got a taste of the class’ achievements and spirit. Six students — Kade Brennaman, Kaitlyn Chappel, Pauline La, Amanda Powers, Megan Powers and Grace Schmidt — were recognized for achieving a cumulative 4.0 grade-point average during their high school careers. Two students, Schmidt and Lorenz Rincones, received this year’s Principal Leadership Award, the school’s highest honor that recognizes students who have made a difference at GCHS.

Rincones and Schmidt also acted as the ceremony’s senior speakers, addressing their peers directly. According to Norby, they were, respectively, the heartbeat and leader of the school.

Both students praised and took pride in the school’s diversity. GCHS students are from 25 countries and speak 28 languages, and the melting pot of experience made students more open-minded, accepting and better prepared for the world ahead, Rincones and Schmidt said.

Rincones said students learned the value of mental toughness, or the stability and will to accomplish great things and strive for self improvement. To Rincones, the opportunities at the school were numerous and faculty and staff eager to help students achieve their goals.

“Anyone in this room has the opportunity to be a leader because we can all learn something from each other,” Rincones said. “These become valuable life skills for us later in life, because in the real world, we’ll already have a one-up on the competition due to the fact that we know how to interact with all different types of people, have leadership skills and gain the mental toughness to drive us to be the best that we can.”

Schmidt highlighted the class’ and school’s recent history of service. The school has donated $10,000 to local charities and families through its student-run coffee shop, given $500 to each opposing football team’s community, helped students’ families in need and raised more than $4,000 to feed local students on the weekends, she said. Dedication to others was one of the things that made the school and its students unique and admirable, she said.

It was also one of the aspects that bound the students together and contributed to what Schmidt called “the herd mentality.”

“The service and diversity of GCHS have taught us numerous lessons that we will take into the world with us,” she said. “The most important lesson is to live with the herd mentality. The herd mentality at GCHS is not the idea that we blindly follow the crowd, ignoring our own thoughts and ideas. The herd mentality here at GCHS means that we accomplish more together, that diversity leads to unity. And together, this herd mentality has allowed us to leave our mark here at GCHS. Even better, us Buffaloes will continue to leave our mark on the world.”

Speakers imparted their own advice onto the parting graduates. This year’s GCHS Hall of Fame inductees, Melinda Hitz, told students that the future was less structured, less certain, but that the students had the tools and supporters to forge their own path. Hitz’s fellow inductee, Alan Stoecklein, reminded students to follow their passion and to remember their families and friends as they strive toward greatness.

After each student walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, after loved ones with cameras in hand relocated and squatted in aisles to get the perfect photo, six students made their way to the front. The seniors — Brennaman, Daniel Chacon, Elizabeth Guymon, Kylee Hipp, Giao Tang and Raul Tornero — had been chosen by their peers to represent the class of 2018 in the official turning of the tassel.

At their classmates’ word, all the seniors moved their tassels and then sang their alma mater. The six seniors at the front put their arms around each other and swayed to the music. The song ended, and they screamed, tossing their caps in the air and clapping along to the school fight song. And then, all at once, the ceremony ended, and the students scattered, rushing out of the gym and into the world in all directions.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.