HOLCOMB — Take it from Holcomb High School salutatorian Steven Crain, the Class of 2018 has come a long way.

“Time flies,” he said Saturday, speaking to his 73 fellow graduates during the school's commencement ceremony at the HHS gym. “We’ve gone to school for 13 years, and today is our last day. Although 13 years seems like a long time, it’s really just a flash.”

Crain walked his classmates and the audience through their time at Holcomb schools. In third grade, they held a Crawfish Olympics. In the following years, they made teepees and got Big Macs for learning multiplication. In middle school, their grade lost their activity period because they played tackle football.

When Saturday’s graduates hit high school, Crain said, they went from confused freshmen to leaders in athletics and academics.

Holcomb’s graduation ceremony, which would bid farewell to not just the district’s 74 graduates, but also Holcomb High School principal Rob Schneeberger and USD 363 superintendent Jean Rush, marked the end of a particularly long era of togetherness for the students, and they knew it.

As the graduates filed in the gym — boys in orange robes, girls in white — parents called out and snapped photos, some gathering at the back of the packed gym or peeking in from the adjacent hallway.

It was an evening of honors for several students: the academic, the athletic, the excellent, the inspirational. Class president Trey Gilbert won the most awards, with Crain and valedictorian Megan Burrows close behind.

Schneeberger presented the students who held 4.0 grade-point averages throughout their high school career, which included Gilbert, Crain, Burrows, Kyle Hammond, Emma Mangels and Kynzi Soukup. Burrows was named a Regent Scholar, and Crain received the Dale Dennis Excellence in Education Award. Crain and Taylor Sleep won the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s Citizenship Award, and the school’s head coaches chose Gilbert and Eboni Sapien as the class’ honored male and female athletes. For most inspirational student, the students selected Gilbert and the faculty chose Zeke Leyva.

During the valedictorian address, Burrows said she remembered coming to the school as a sixth-grader and wondering if she would fit in. It turns out she didn’t have anything to worry about.

“Something I will never forget is how open and welcoming this community has been towards me and all others that came before me or will come after me,” she said. “From being an outcast to taking on the world together, this class has shown me the unity of a family and lifelong friendship.”

Burrows walked through the class’ achievements — athletic, academic and artistic.

“Not everyone in our class is going on to college, but I believe everyone in this class is going on to do great things,” she said.

Prior to diplomas being distributed, a slideshow that included baby pictures of each student and a collage of school memories from elementary age onward, was shown. After it ended, Rush stood to speak to her last HHS graduating class, using old school shirts — black, orange and white — to pass on final advice.

She told them to be proud of their accomplishments and to welcome the uncertainty of what comes next. She reminded them to put others first, continue to support each other and remember the families and community that had supported them for the past 13 years. Finally, she asked students to remember the legacy of the schools and their mascot.

“And as you go through life, and you hit those bumps in the road, I want you to remember this final message,” Rush said, holding up one last T-shirt. “Longhorn strong. You’ve survived and succeeded in a lot of things, and I encourage you, whatever you pursue, that you remember to maintain that ‘Longhorn strong’ attitude … I want to encourage you to remember: ‘Once a Longhorn, always a Longhorn.’”

And then, Rush presented the class of 2018 to the people who had made their achievements possible.

When the graduates left the school, they passed a line of stacked posters presenting Holcomb graduating classes. Behind their class were generations of past students dating back to 1959. Before them were blank pages awaiting next year’s graduates, and the year after that, and the year after that.

The class of 2018 sat framed near the end of the line, displaying the faces of Holcomb students who had walked through the district's halls for 13 years, and on Saturday afternoon, with achievements earned and diplomas in hand, had walked out.


Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.