APS students take final look back

ALPENA – Alpena High School students took their last walk through the Arthur V. Gillespie Gymnasium as seniors on Sunday. But before the students even entered the gym, the guests were treated to a video compilation of photos put together by this years Senior Planning Team. The pictures included in the slideshow had been submitted by senior students and were chosen by the Planning Team to commemorate the class’ favorite high school moments. The Planning Team also included a letter of appreciation in the program, thanking parents, grandparents, guardians, and friends of the Class of 2013 for their support.

The Alpena High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble started the familiar Pomp and Circumstance march, announcing the entrance of the 2013 graduating class. Two hundred, eighty-three seniors took their seats as the 131st graduating class of Alpena High School, smiling and anxiously awaiting their turn to walk across the stage and become graduates.

Alpena High School principal Matthew Poli greeted the graduates and guests.

“Congratulations to you and your families for helping make this such a special day,” Poli said. “This is a great moment for all those involved.”

Military-bound seniors led the guests in the Pledge of Allegiance and AHS’s concert choir sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” accompanied by the symphonic wind ensemble.

The Choir then sang a beautiful rendition of “Vienna” by Billy Joel, which was transcribed by AHS student Jacob Burrone, ending in soothing harmonies which received loud applause.

Poli commended the seniors for helping prepare the grounds for pictures after graduation, and highlighted some of the events at the Senior lock-in.

“It’s hard to believe just 30 hours ago we were in this same space singing karaoke,” Poli said.

He also thanked the Senior Planning Team for their hard work this year and said the organization and events they had done have been nothing short of amazing.

Kristie McNeil and Laura Rhude were chosen to speak at this year’s graduation, and both referred to a saying constructed by the class “One class. One tree. One family. One three.”

Kristie McNeil referred to the class as a growing tree, and all of the family members, teachers and friends who supported them throughout the years as the support stakes to help the tree grow.

“Without the stabilizing and support provided by all of you, we would not be here today,” McNeil said. “We have, and always will need our stabilizing stakes.”

McNeil paralleled the growth of a tree to the class going their separate ways.

“No matter where we’re going after this, there’s one thing I am sure of, the class of 2013 has truly become a family. Within our memories we’ve shared a symphony of emotions through a sea of events, and it’s these emotions that have truly created our bond as a family. We’ve all made it to this point, one of the defining moments in our lives. Today, right now, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.”

Speaker Laura Rhude, number one in the class, started off by thanking the parents, teachers, and principal for their support throughout the years.

“Mr. Poli, thanks a million for being one of the coolest principals out there, and actually caring to get to know us and being so involved,” Rhude said.

Rhude compared the class to a tree, and each senior to a leaf.

“We were all little green buds,” she said. “We have grown, we’ve reached the end of this season of life, and changed into full greens … all different from each other. Even though we all have our different branches, we are connected together through the trunk; AHS.”

Rhude told her fellow seniors not to worry or have regrets.

“Life will be filled with new amazing opportunities. Each of our leaves will change the world some day …. We are one tree. We are one three.”

AHS career and technical education teacher, Kelly Belew, was the faculty member chosen to speak this year. Belew asked the students to look around the gym, and told the class to take a moment to appreciate the people who have supported them throughout the years, and to look at all the events leading up to this moment in their lives.

“Where you go and what you choose are your choices alone,” Belew said. “You need to keep working, you need to keep pushing toward something.”

“You will never know how close to success you were if you give up,” she said.

Belew gave the graduates advice on facing obstacles in life and owning up to your choices.

“Make a life that you can be proud of,” she said. “There are always opportunities if you’re looking for them … I promise, if you find a job you love, you will never work another day in your life. Never give up on yourself. You are worth every investment you ever make.”

“We wish you challenges you will learn from, opportunities you will embrace, a career that includes your passion, and blessings that you will account,” Belew said.

Poli then congratulated the 30 students honored at the Besser Excellence dinner, pointing out that 29 of the 30 students graduated with a 4.0 or higher grade point average, and asked them to stand and be acknowledged by their peers and families.

Devin Connon was honored as the only student who had perfect attendance for his entire four years of high school.

The seniors lined up on both sides of the stage, with Superintendent Brent Holcomb and board President Diane Shields making the presentation of the 2013 graduates, while board of education members presented them with their diplomas. Graduates received a white carnation from Poli, along with a handshake of congratulations after receiving their diplomas.

Guests were treated to a song written and performed by Helena Antoni, with the help of Heidi Boyd, titled “This Town,” about the graduates always having memories in Alpena.

Poli then instructed the 2013 seniors to turn their tassels, and they walked out of the gym to Fanfare and Recessional played by the wind ensemble as 2013 AHS Alumni.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.