SANDWICH – Class president Mackenzie Frieders told about 170 of her fellow Sandwich High School graduates that the class gift will be a tree that will symbolize their growth while they were students there.
"We hope that when you see the tree, you will remember," Frieders said. "You will remember the way you grew here, the friends you made, and the ones that you left behind."
The class' four valedictorians and one salutatorian each gave speeches. During her valedictorian speech, Cassandra Dobson honored math teacher Darla Fraley, who is retiring after 29 years teaching at Sandwich.
"Seek peace and live a life of service to others," Fraley advised her classmates. "Be a shining light wherever you go, and always remember to smile."
During the ceremony, foreign exchange student Nicolas Kaiser received an American flag to commemorate his time in Sandwich.
"I feel at home and comfortable in Sandwich," Kaiser said. "I have two more years left of school in Germany, but I plan on coming back one day to see my host family and friends."
Tom Sodaro, the school principal, officiated the ceremony and announced the names of the graduates as they were presented their diplomas. Sodaro was the principal at the elementary school during the students' fourth- and fifth-grade years.
"This is an interesting time for me, because I was their principal when they were younger," Sodaro said. "They were reading 'Flat Stanley' in fourth grade, and now they're reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' ...They're a real good group of kids, and I'm proud of them.
"I can't wait to see what they will accomplish after this."
For Chay Mitchell Jr., graduation was a milestone he almost did not reach. Mitchell was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and missed many days of school because of doctor visits and a hospitalization.
"Once you've been diagnosed, it will be something you deal with the rest of your life," Mitchell's mother, Jessica, said. "Today is really emotional for us. It is a huge accomplishment for him, and we love that he can graduate with his class and have some normalcy again."
"Graduating today feels like a boulder's been lifted off of my shoulders," Mitchell said. "I was a little unsure about my being able to graduate on time. Graduation is a huge step, and I'm excited to move on."
But all of this year's graduates are readying to spread their wings and fly on, senior Renee Helfrich said
"All of us have something we're looking forward to," Helfrich said. "Whether it is money, college, or jobs, it's the real world. We're looking forward to the next stage of life."