Whether they were uttered by the senior speakers, the distinguished alums or Principal Steve Nordby, the words used to describe what it means to be a Garden City Buffalo were strikingly similar.
Those who spoke at Saturday night’s Garden City High School commencement said Buffaloes are willing to serve. They have an ability to put differences aside and embrace diversity within their ranks. Together, they can make an impact. And, they often don’t forget how special it is to be a Buffalo.
Before the 440 members of the Class of 2019 crossed the stage at the GCHS gym, their classmates, their principal and two Hall of Fame inducted alums who stood in their shoes decades ago reminded the soon-to-be graduates just what being a Buffalo meant to them.
“To be a Buffalo means to be joined by thousands of kids, from all different types of ethnicities and backgrounds, and still be able to unite as one family,” said Elena Lemke, who along with Zin Phyo, Caitlyn Harman and Chloe Hanigan, was one of four senior speakers who addressed the class.
Such unification is no small feat, considering there are more than 20 different languages spoken and GCHS students come from 29 different countries, Lemke said.
“Even with these astounding demographics, we still do not see ourselves as different from one another. Instead, we see each other as Buffaloes who are all a part of the same herd.”
GCHS alum Beth Tedrow, who along with fellow alum Bryce Roderick was inducted Friday night into the school’s Hall of Fame, has never left the herd.
The Class of 1955 graduate returned to GCHS to teach, just four years after leaving the school as a student. She said she planned to stay just “a couple of years.”
“But something happened those two years, and that’s the thing I want to share with you,” Tedrow, who has lived and worked in Garden City ever since she first returned to the community, told the soon-to-be graduates. “I again fell in love with my hometown, and particularly with Garden City High School. … So here I am, still.”
Roderick, who graduated from GCHS in 1963, had some advice for this year's class.
“As you travel forward to reach your goals, know that the road is not straight. There will be curves, there will be bumps and there will be road blocks. Be ready to make adjustments, corrections, along the way. Be ready for a detour or two. Keep moving forward, and don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice along the way. There is success at the end of the road,” he said.
But Phyo told her classmates to try to live in the moment for now — that there would be time later to worry about such things as financial aid, finding a job, buying a car, attending a college or joining the workforce.
“I want all of us to stop, take a breath and reflect back on this journey,” Phyo said.
The journey for the Class of 2019 has been a great one — from success in academics and activities to a willingness to serve within the school and the community — Nordby said in his opening remarks.
Nordby stressed the class’ desire to serve, saying it reminded him of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon about the Drum Major Instinct, or as King described it, “one’s desire for “recognition, importance, and attention.”
Quoting Dr. King, Nordby said, “If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.
“… By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great because everybody can serve."
Lemke said her classmates have proven they are capable of great things.
“Just sitting amongst us today, we have a National Merit Scholar, state champions, accomplished artists, 23 students with 4.0's, and many more high-achieving Buffaloes,” Lemke said.
Two of those class members, Kathryn Chandler and Ryleigh Whitehurst, were honored during the commencement as the 2019 winners of the school’s Principal Leadership Award.
“From fundraising for students in need to helping the community, Buffaloes never hesitate to find ways to serve, and through our service, we will become leaders,” Lemke said. “It takes a herd to make an impact, and I am proud to say that the Class of 2019 has done just that.”
Nordby had a simple message for this year’s class.
“Wherever life takes you, keep working to make your part of the world a better place,” he said.
After each of the graduates was recognized, six members of the class — Chandler, Javyn Contreras, Will Keller, Easton Lager, Elyssa Salazar and Peyton Wessels — led their classmates in the traditional turning of the tassel.
The future comes next. But they’re Buffaloes, so Phyo knows they’ll be ready.
“We can make a difference,” Phyo said. “Whether that be the first to finish college, running a business, saving lives or just going back to our own family farm. Believe in yourselves, fight for what you want, stay resilient, stay strong, stay Buffaloes.”
Contact Brett Riggs at firstname.lastname@example.org.