Edwardsburg High School graduates 207 students

Published 12:09 pm Thursday, June 6, 2019

EDWARDSBURG — With the sun shining high in the sky and breezes whipping in through the gymnasium doors, families and friends of the graduating Class of 2019 filled the bleachers and seats to capacity in anticipation of their student’s commencement at Edwardsburg High School on Sunday, June 2.

The crowd, eager with anticipation, was not disappointed when the EHS band began to play Edward Elgar’s infamous “Fanfare and Processional,” as the students marched — or walked or even danced in, two by two, arm-in-arm, side-by-side, in traditional Edwardsburg fashion.

With a wave to the crowd, a quick game of rock-paper-scissors or a truly unique handshake, perfected likely moments before taking their walk, the students separated and took their seats among their fellow graduates.

A class of dreamers and fighters is how class valedictorian Olivia Brunner described her fellow classmates.

“A class that took the bar, and raised it even higher, a class that dared to push the limits fearlessly … from athletics to arts and academics. We did not get to where we are today by settling,” she said.

Principal Ryan Markel spoke of the law of significance in reference to the Class of 2019.

“One is too small of a number to achieve greatness. You cannot do anything of real value alone,” he said to the class.

EHS Class of 2019 graduates earned the highest SAT scores in the school’s history, won six conference championships in the 2018-2019 school year, shattered school records, Markel said, and won the Division 4 State Championship in football.

“The accomplishments you have displayed while at Edwardsburg High School are second to no other class that has come before you. The truth is that teamwork is the heart of your great achievements,” Markel said. “Your cohesiveness, character and support for one another never wavered on the stage, on the ball field, or in the classroom.”

Among the 207 graduates, there were 12 valedictorians, three salutatorians, three students that never missed a day of their four years in high school — Kristina Bellaire, Dakota Emerson and Katherine Harr, two National Merit Scholars — Natalie Rarick and Ian Wagner, and one student whose presence at graduation was miraculous.

“I would like to acknowledge Ella Merrill for her courageous grit and determination. You taught us all to believe in miracles, Ella. We are honored and truly proud to see you walk across the stage today,” Markel said.

Merrill was involved in an automobile accident in December 2017, where she experienced the worst brain injury a person can have: a diffuse axonal injury. The now-high school graduate spent 49 days in a coma at Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids and against all odds, walked out of that hospital and back into her life, forever changed, but forever moving forward.

“Teamwork is, and always has been, the essential building block of this country,” Markel said. “As you leave the halls of Edwardsburg High School and attempt to put your personal stamp on the world, I encourage you not to take the journey alone, but to invite others along with you on your team, just as you have the last four years.”

Thanking their team of leaders was the common theme among valedictorians Claire Alby, Chloe Bartz, Kristina Bellaire, Madeline Gordon, Cassidy Martenson, Kara Shrider, Natalie Rarick and Annika Smith. These students thanked their parents, family, friends, faculty and staff at Edwardsburg High School for their respective roles in their success.

Alby, Bartz and Smith collectively agreed that the four years they spent in high school were surely not going to be their best years.

“The actual best years of your life are the ones ahead,” Alby said.

“I refuse to believe the best four years of our life are behind us,” Bartz said. 

Smith agreed that her four years in high school had been great, but was looking forward to the future.

“However, I truly hope that I will not look back at my time at EHS as the pinnacle of my life. Instead, I believe my experiences at EHS have effectively prepared me for my life after high school, the big scary adult world,” she said.

As they prepare to venture out into the world, Shrider, Gordon and Martenson expressed their sense of community with guests and graduates, alike.

“As we venture out these doors we will face many new uncertainties, but with these uncertainties, we will face new opportunities,” Shrider said.

“Keep in mind that this small town will be waiting for you,” Gordon said.

Martenson, who was also class president, recalled the day she stepped into Edwardsburg High School as a freshman.

“I was hoping to find a couple good friends — ones that felt like sunshine. I didn’t find a couple people that felt like sunshine, I found an entire school, an entire village, to be exact, that felt exactly like sunshine, every single day,” she said.

Valedictorian David Kanczuzewski challenged his fellow graduates as they move on into the world, setting the course of their future, that whatever they choose to be, that they choose to be good.

“Keep this in your heart: No matter what you are doing in the future, whatever job you are doing, you are just as important as everyone else,” he said.

Valedictorian sisters Elizabeth and Margaret Brown took the stage one after the other to remind their classmates what successful people they are, and to live with conviction.

“Successful people have integrity, grit and courage. They may not have the biggest bank account. You will consistently be disappointed if you compare yourself to others,” Elizabeth Brown said. “Conviction takes courage, and lots of it. Conviction also requires integrity. Define yourself, be well informed and have conviction. When we leave this room, let us go forth and live with conviction,” Margaret Brown said.

Three salutatorians rounded out the top 15 students, leading the class of graduates. Jenna Friend encouraged her classmates to focus on their futures, while Jarod Siguenza reminded them that a single smile can make a difference. Madeline Solkey was certain their Class of 2019 would always be remembered for their passion and resolve.

Teamwork is what defined these 207 graduates, and team work is what will be their legacy.

“Team of 2019, today is the day to be extremely proud of all of your accomplishments. You will always be remembered as the class of 2019, the team that had a magnificent impact on Edwardsburg public schools,” Markel said.