Before the Flathead High School Class of 2018 commencement ceremony got underway Friday evening, graduate Nikki Sauter double high-fived Anna Henderson and another fellow classmate — their exuberance causing the tassels on their black caps to sway.
“I’ve got 70 cents in my bank account and an empty gas tank. I’m looking forward to adulthood,” Sauter said, smiling broadly.
Graduation came not a moment too soon for her.
“I’m excited for it to be over, but I am excited to sing with the Chorale Aires one last time,” Sauter said.
Henderson, who is also in the Chorale Aires, agreed. The select choir would send graduates on their way to musician Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah.”
When asked about the best part of the past four years, Henderson paused and looked out across the forest of black robes noticing fellow graduate Grace Burtsfield.
“Grace will know how to better answer that,” Henderson said waving her over.
“A lot of tears sums it up. A lot of sad. A lot of happy [tears],” Burtsfield said.
As to what the future holds for the graduates — Henderson is hopping a plane to Paris this weekend on vacation. In the fall, she heads to the University of Montana. Burtsfield is also headed to the University of Montana. As for Sauter, her plans include attending Flathead Valley Community College then transferring to the University of Montana, where old classmates may meet once again.
With nerves bundled up in excitement the graduates filed into a packed gym of proud family and friends waving, clapping, whistling and shouting.
In giving the opening address, graduate Grace Cady noted her journey to find a successful and famous Flathead alumni and share his or her story as proof that the past four years were worth it.
Who she discovered was Eugene Peterson, Class of 1953 — a clergyman, scholar, author and poet. What she learned from a phone conversation with Peterson’s wife is that he has struggled with dementia in his later years, yet preserving his gentle kindness toward others.
“In my search for a success story, I had found something better,” Cady said. “While Eugene is proof that we can leave these hallways and become amazing things, he’s also proof when all of that has withered away — what is left is the humanity that we choose to share with others. In the words of Eugene himself, wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves.”
“In the last four years we have broken each other’s hearts and cried in each other’s arms and through this we have taught each other how to love,” she said — the kindness proving “why Flathead is truly the best.”
“Eugene and every Flathead graduate before and after him are gifted with these qualities because it’s hard to leave this place without having learned them,” Cady said.
In his commencement speech, Noah Love brought out the laughter in the audience and relayed the impending drudgery of adult tasks, like learning how to do laundry and file taxes. He also spoke to finding success and resiliency by persevering through life’s mistakes or failures.
“If high school students have learned anything in these last four years, it’s that our high school career wasn’t determined by the moments of success and achieving, rather the moments of survival. We made it through. Wisdom oftentimes will come to you from the most unlikeliest of sources, but it’s important that you listen to them all,” Love said.
And the Class of 2018 has shown resiliency, Love said, having started the year with a cyber attack that shut down schools valleywide, and more recently, by completing finals to the tune of jackhammers as construction on the high school got underway.
Love noted that all graduates have to participate on the “team of life” whether they want to or not.
“Remember that sometimes a smile can change every single person’s day. The greatest cruelty of our time is our casual blindness to the despair of others. Your actions are powerful and there’s a difference between the gifts you have and the choices you make. Cleverness for example, is gift. Kindness though, that’s a choice.”
Love encouraged the graduates to believe in themselves, push limits, be “game-changers,” solve problems and dream big.
“We will dream of a solution and if it doesn’t work we will simply dream bigger,” Love said, later adding. “This really is the start of your life.”
In concluding the ceremony, graduate Trae Vasquez stood at the microphone.
“Class of 2018, you are dismissed,” he said as black and orange streamers fell to the floor.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.