Purdy graduates celebrate shared history, success

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Purdy High School graduates tossed their hats and simultaneously doused each other in Silly String to celebrate the end of high school at the close of commencement exercises on Saturday. More photos appear on Page 2B. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Faculty speaker urges grads to 'get over' difficulties

With inside jokes and expressions of gratitude, seniors at Purdy High School completed graduation on Saturday before a full house in the high school gym.

The 48-member Class of 2016 entered the gym having chosen the motto "What We Do Echoes in Eternity," which was written on the wall behind the speaker's lectern. Graduates Umar Akhtar and Andrea Humphrey set the tone for the ceremony as they regaled their classmates with personal references. Humphrey went so far as to reference Dewey, the friendly school ghost who he said has made students even more paranoid to be at school."

Purdy High School valedictorian Mikala Fletcher, left, and salutatorian Breanna Keeler wore their medals as their class's top graduates as they walked into graduation exercises on Saturday. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

"We have truly been blessed with the best at Purdy High School," Akhtar said. "The school, and community, has supported each one of us and supplied us with everything we need to be successful."

Principal Matthew Gower, leading his first graduation ceremony, introduced the three speakers with words from those who had observed them.

Salutatorian Breanna Keeler in her address talked about the passage of time, initially measured in class periods, then in semesters, going from clueless freshmen to sophisticated sophomores, then juniors ready to take over to seniors whose rule had suddenly ended.

Keeler thanked faculty and family for support, classmates for memories, and God for never ending support, whose scripture provides assurance that there is a plan for all.

Valedictorian Mikala Fletcher also offered a flashback in time, returning to kindergarten and starting out on an exciting journey with 50 strangers who would soon become her closest friends. Despite classmates who would jump off the teeter-totter when their partner was on top, the class became known for friendships, Fletcher said.

There were defining moments, she continued, such as learning synchronized "clap, clap, dab" and chanting "2015" at their freshman assembly until they realized they had identified the wrong year. All this brought the class back to the gym, where they had witnessed both failure and success. Rather than tell her class they would become world changers, Fletcher took a different route.

The 48 members of the Purdy High School Class of 2016 faced the audience after processing into the school gym for graduation exercises on Saturday. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

"I believe that our job is to be the kind of people that the Purdy community has raised us to be -- every day difference makers, the kind of people that hold open doors, lend a helping hand and offer a listening ear and an encouraging word to someone in need.," she said. "We have been surrounded by these humble heroes all our lives, and it is time for us to take what we have learned from them and apply it to our futures."

The graduates' choice of faculty speaker, math teacher Molly Strickland, turned the equation around, so that after declaring she hoped she had taught the students math is everywhere, she talked about what the students had taught her, such as how to apologize to teenagers.

Strickland offered her advice to the graduates.

"Math is hard," she said. "So is life. Get over it. If someone doesn't care about you, then cancel your subscription to their magazine and swerve, [and] always give 110 percent, unless you're giving blood."

Strickland observed that 3 plus 6 equals 9, as does 1 plus 8 and 31 minus 22.

Band director James Adams led students in Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1," with an amplified drum part at the end, as the graduates marched into the school gym for graduation on Saturday. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

"Sometimes, we add things to our lives to get to where we want to go, and sometimes things need to be subtracted," she said. "There is more than one way of doing something, and as long as you get it right, does it matter how you got there?

"Who we are cannot be separated from where we are from."

She said it is not the school's walls that define a person, but that person's character. Taking the accomplishments from school as a foundation will guide the graduates as they go into a world that will get bigger the farther they travel.

"Make good choices," she concluded.

The 19-member Senior Choir sang "History," a song with words tailored to fit the community. For this performance, classmate Robbie Ortega, identified by Fletcher as the best drummer around despite his handicaps, accompanied the ensemble of the Djembe, and band teacher James Adams, who is leaving teaching after this year, played along on the electric bass.

The 19-member Senior Choir, under the direction of Lauren Lee, sang "History," with new words for the occasion and a drum accompaniment by classmate Robbie Ortega at right. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Gower presented the class, and each walked across the stage to receive a diploma. When it came Ortega's turn, the class erupted into cheers, and Ortega responded with a waving fist and a broad smile.

In closing comments, graduates Jonatan Salazar and Ashton Young unfurled a 10-foot-long speech text with several observations they had about things they survived.

These included business teacher Kay Wright's daily emails, Salazar's "biting problem," enduring Strickland's overuse of the question "Yeah?," expressed as many as 53 times in one hour, according to Salazar's count. Young and Salazar started chanting "2015" as they had as freshmen, then stopped, recounted on their fingers, then concluded with "2016!," popping a tube of confetti to end their benediction.

Valedictorian Mikala Fletcher received the first diploma in her class from school board member Tammy Humphrey, as board president Randy Henderson, at center, looked on. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Following the recessional, the graduates ran back to the center of the gym, tossed their mortarboard hats and doused each other in Silly String, another long established Purdy tradition, before greeting friends and family as the program concluded.

Turning the tassels on their mortarboard hats to indicate graduation, front row from left, were Mikala Fletcher, Breanna Keeler and Essie Dodson. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat
Graduate Uly Martinez posed with family while holding a big batch of balloons in honor of her achievement following commencement exercises on Saturday in Purdy. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat
Sharing congratulations after graduation, Rhonda Schilly hugged her daughter, Morgan, after graduation on Saturday. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat
Graduate Haydee Ramirez exchanged a hug with math teacher Tabitha Farris in congratulations for finishing high school. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat
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