Dowagiac graduates 121 at cool ceremony

Published 6:27pm Sunday, June 2, 2013
1943 wartime graduate William Myrkle accepts his diploma from Michelle Helmuth-Charles, Dowagiac Board of Education president.
1943 wartime graduate William Myrkle accepts his diploma Sunday from Michelle Helmuth-Charles, Dowagiac Board of Education president.

From five co-valedictorians and a 1943 diploma to windy weather in the 50s, Dowagiac’s 148th Commencement Sunday afternoon on Chris Taylor-Alumni Field was uncommon.


Breeze “stole” so many garments draped around necks it seemed to suggest how they got their name.


C.J. Brooks’ Union High School band performed “Anchors Aweigh,” the U.S. Naval Academy fight song, in honor of William Myrkle of Bangor, called to active World War II duty 70 years ago before he could graduate with his classmates.


Jeff Robinson’s singers “Celebrated” with Kool and the Gang’s 1980 No. 1 hit, then the choir director turned son Jonathan’s tassel.


First-year Principal Pieter Hoekstra said the 121-member DUHS Class of 2013 was the first time he had ever been associated with graduation outdoors.


With six speeches, plus remarks by Board of Education President Michelle Helmuth-Charles and Supt. Dr. Mark Daniel advocating grit and resilience, academic leaders gave their class a well-rounded sendoff.


“You will continue to be highly successful in whatever and wherever you venture,” Daniel said, “if you remember to make your mark on the world, rather than the world making a mark on you. Be resilient and gritty. Everyone here at one time or another had to bounce back.”


Co-valedictorian Kristyn Turner used a bit of her two minutes to try to collect a $20 bet made in ninth grade with her older brother, Jason, that she would lead the class.


“Today is the culmination of 13 years of schooling that we have all been anxiously awaiting. We take our last steps together today as we walk across the stage. I want you all to know what a privilege it was to be part of such a wonderful class. You are an exceptional group of people, and we’ll have a positive impact on the world. Our successes did not come without much hard work on our part, but we certainly did not reach this point on our own. Take time to thank everyone who helped you along the way.”


Co-valedictorian Jeremy Collins praised teachers Keith Klann, Jacob McCauley, C.J. Brooks, Mike Petersen and Jamie Whitfield, lamenting that her French program was being cut.


Co-valedictorian Corinne Kasper, who ate a hot pepper in calculus, introduced herself as a Pokagon woman.


“I say today is not the first day of the rest of our lives, but the first day of kindergarten,” with the ACT being replaced by the LSAT (law school) or MCAT (medical school).


“Do not let today be the only marker of great change,” Kasper said. “Figure out what matters to you, even if it takes four years. Confound the world around you by doing the right thing, no matter what anyone tells you.”


Co-valedictorian Katherine Pielemeier said, “Any change, even change for the better, will be accompanied by drawbacks and discomfort.”


Co-valedictorian Sydney Foote said, “We forever left our mark on Union High School. It seems only fitting that we continue our history-making on graduation day with a record five valedictorians. I could not be more proud to be standing next to you all one last time.”


Influential teachers who challenged Foote and made her laugh included Hermina Carmona, Michael Behnke, McCauley and Whitfield.


Salutatorian Hollie Olson said, “This may be the last time this amazing class sees each other, but we always have memories to keep us together. I want to give underclassmen some advice: Please have fun and enjoy high school because it will be over before you know it. Every day, we have the opportunity to learn and experience something new. Seize the opportunity.”


Helmuth-Charles, noting the class earned more than $700,000 in scholarships for higher education, said, “Whatever your path looked like the past 13 years, and though your experiences have been different, after your tassel has been turned” by DUHS secretary Brenda Reagan and numerous other teachers and parents, “Each and every one of you has the same opportunity with your high school education as a stepping stone.”





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