Class of 2000 told: Embrace what is different

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

With tears, cheers, one of those air horns and a big illustrated homemade sign waving on a pole, parents of the Juneau-Douglas High School Class of 2000 saw their children cross a threshold at Saturday's commencement.

``I'm sentimental,'' said Elsie Rado, mother of graduate Chez Stock. ``Very proud of her. . . . It's like ending a chapter and beginning the next one.''

``It's like you're looking at the student that's graduating,'' said stepfather Fernando Rado, ``and you're thinking of all the things that are coming her way that she has a choice to say yes or no to, and it's a great feeling.''

``This is the beginning for a lot of things to come for him,'' said Laurie Schoenberger, mother of graduate Garrett Schoenberger. ``It's also very sad. He's our last (youngest) son. We'll have the empty nest syndrome.''

Garrett Schoenberger was supposed to speak at commencement, but he's also on the baseball team, which played in the state tournament Saturday morning in Palmer and couldn't arrive at the ceremony's start.

Jarrett Heffner, a scheduled co-speaker with Schoenberger, gave their joint message to the class: Embrace what is different and seek out people who are unlike yourself. ``We need to be the generation that breaks down barriers between social and economic classes,'' Heffner said.

The 3 p.m. ceremony started late and speakers stretched things out until the senior baseball players arrived to cheers at 4:15 during teacher Gary Lehnhart's commencement address. The JDHS Orchestra played ``Pomp and Circumstance'' all over again.

Lehnhart offered his advice to the graduates by interpreting some student comments to teachers. One example: A health student suggested the way to stop a nosebleed was to put the nose much lower than the body until the heart stops. Lehnhart's words to live by: ``If you're in trouble, ask for help.''

Lehnhart also singled out students, praising Benjamin Helms for courage and Angela Fowler for grace.

``I respect your individualism,'' he told Christopher Behnke.

``I enjoyed your sense of justice. You cared about many things,'' Lehnhart said to Jennifer Lund.

Then Lehnhart asked the graduates to do for their parents what athletes do on the field to acknowledge an assisting player: point to them. And the class rose and their outstretched arms were like beacons.

``I'm bursting with pride because I know what our students did to get here,'' said Ronalda Cadiente, the administrator of Yaakoosge Daakahidi, the alternative high school program, whose students get JDHS diplomas.

``I'm just overwhelmed, celebrating with them. It's a sweet close to a great year,'' she said.

Before the ceremony, as seniors milled in the auxiliary gym, Chris Thomas said he was more than ready to leave high school. He said he'll attend the University of Alaska Southeast for a year and then study psychology in New York City. It's clear he knows his own mind already.

``It's a time where we tend to get a little frustrated because we're losing the systems we learned to manipulate,'' Thomas said of leaving high school. ``But we're going to a world where we grow up and become the people we've always seen ourselves to be.''

Graduate Lexie Janowiec said she felt a strong sense of accomplishment. ``You feel like all your hard work has paid off.''

She'll attend the University of Montana this fall. ``I'm looking forward to meeting new people, but I'm sad about leaving my friends and family.''

Jesse Walker had his own take on leaving high school.

``I feel normal. Everything is normal. I don't have to go to school anymore. It's normalcy. It's extra-special normal,'' he said.

Decidedly not the norm was Aluki Pauline May Brower, who wanted to wear shades and a purple boa at the ceremony.

``Gotta go for the boa,'' she said beforehand.

Why? ``My nonconformity, my wild personality, my need to make everyone happy. Seriously, I'm all about fun.''

Well, the boa didn't get past the boa police. But Brower, wearing regular glasses, did sneak in her soap bubble materials and was happily cascading bubbles over her neighboring graduates as ``Pomp and Circumstance'' played during the processional. That's one circumstance no one counted on.

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