Lake’s Class of 2011 grows closer through adversityWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Clad in light and dark blue gowns, Lake High School’s 100th graduating class entered their commencement ceremony May 22 and passed a silent reminder of how far they’d come.
Painted in white on a corner of turf on the school’s new football field is the date “6-5-10.”
It’s been nearly a year since a tornado destroyed the high school along with dozens of area homes, killing seven people, including the father of Lake’s 2010 valedictorian. After spending their senior year in temporary quarters dubbed “The Hanger” at Owens Community College, the 129 graduates of the Class of 2011 were glad to be gathered on the grounds of their former school.
“I’m so happy we’re graduating here on the football field,” said graduate Liz Anzaldua. “I don’t think it’d be the same to graduate elsewhere.”
Anzaldua, who plans to study pre-medicine at the University of Toledo on a full-ride scholarship, said she was excited to get her diploma.
“I’ve been ready since the beginning of the year,” Anzaldua said. “This day couldn’t come quick enough.”
On June 5, Anzaldua was at a friend’s house on Main Street in Millbury. The street was one of the hardest-hit areas. The twister flattened homes on both sides of the street and killed three members of the Walters family.
“We were messing around and said, ‘Wow, that sounds like a train’ and that happened to be when the tornado came through,” said Anzaldua, who said no one in the house was hurt.
During Superintendent Jim Witt’s address, he pointed to the middle school and elementary school, noting the buildings where many in the class spent their formative school years. He then pointed to the empty dirt lot where the high school one stood, the spot “where for three years, you cried, learned, laughed and made countless memories.”
“Today, for the last time as an entire group, you are home,” Witt said.
Graduate Hillary West said graduating on site was preferable to anywhere else.
“This is where we started; this is our home, our campus,” West said. “This is where we belong.”
West, who will attend the University of Akron on a softball scholarship this fall, said the hardest part of spending her senior year at “The Hanger” was feeling like the new kid again.
“We were just like freshman, going into a new school, starting over when we should have known what was going on,” West said.
Middle school and high school principal Lee Herman said he felt the graduating class had as normal a senior year as they could have under the circumstances.
“Kids are amazingly resilient and while the building [at Owens] has nuances that make it different from a regular high school, they handled it and adjusted to it well,” said Herman, who said construction of a new high school building is scheduled to be completed by August 2012. “If they had their choice they would much rather be in the old building, but that’s not a choice.”
It was a big adjustment, but West said the class made the most of it.
“As seniors, everyone was looking to us to lead and we had to take control,” West said. “The biggest thing for us was not getting split up. We didn’t want to go to other schools. Not that we don’t like other schools, but we wanted to be together.”
Graduate Casey Witt said the adversity made the class closer.
“It wasn’t the ideal location to spend senior year, but we got to do it together,” said Witt, who plans to attend UT and major in secondary education.
Thankfulness for togetherness was a recurring sentiment among the graduates.
“It was hard, but we got through it because we were together,” said Keegan Lucas, who plans to attend UT to study accounting. “They were talking about splitting us up, so it was good we were together.”
The class motto, printed on the commencement program, is lyrics from an Eminem song called “Not Afraid”: “We walk this road together, through the storm, whatever weather, cold or warm, just let you know, you’re not alone.”
Witt, who is the son of the superintendent, said graduation brought mixed emotions.
“It’s overwhelming and bittersweet, but it’s very exciting,” said Witt, who was one of five student speakers during the ceremony.
He had one piece of advice for his classmates: Don’t blink.
“Our community learned that everything can be gone in an instant. Our school, where we would have spent our senior year, also gone in an instant,” Witt said. “No matter where the world takes us or what it has in store, what matters is we all graduated from Lake High School together. Cherish every moment. Don’t blink.”
Fellow student speaker Dillon Wood took a less serious route, peppering his speech with inside jokes and quips, prompting the biggest laughs of the ceremony.
“The administration said everything would be OK, that we would just have to grind it out,” said Wood of the rebuilding process. “Then the day before Homecoming, we were informed there was a no grinding policy, so we couldn’t grind it out anymore.”
Witt recalled surveying the damage last June and wondering how students would react. Then he watched the community come together “in a way that’s indescribable even today” and saw the rising seniors pitching in to help their neighbors everywhere he looked.
“At that time, in that moment, I knew we were going to be fine,” Witt said.