For graduates, sad goodbyes, bright futures

The class of 2006 finished the final hour of their high school careers last Friday, surrounded by family.

Technically, it was family and friends, but as the evening's speakers pointed out, for young people here, everyone is family.

"The park, Tusayan and Valle is one huge family that shares in the joys and sorrows of our children," said speaker Judy Walker. "Do not forget your roots. You are part of a special family called the Grand Canyon School and the Grand Canyon community. Cherish every memory forever."

She was asked to speak by the senior class, many of whom she taught in preschool and babysat over the years.

The ceremony was held on the El Tovar lawn, with the grads overlooking the canyon. In all, 29 seniors graduated and 22 eighth-graders made the passage to high school.

The ceremony opened with eighth grade valedictorian Monique Streit leading the pledge and grade eight salutatorian Keslee Foster leading a moment of silence.

Superintendent Sheila Breen opened the ceremony, sharing advice and encouragement in the form of 10 quotes.

This is a great group of students," she said. "I've been here long enough to get to know them all and appreciate who they are and what they're capable of doing. I truly believe these two classes are going to change the world."

Changing the world was also the topic for valedictorian Eddie Tobin's speech. After waiting for two hours in front of the computer for an epiphany that didn't come, he turned to the Internet, where he found a Pulitzer Prize winning news photo of a starving toddler crawling to water.

"Although the entire picture was quite disturbing, the thing that dropped my heart, more than anything else, was the vulture standing behind the child," he said. "This bird was nearly twice the size of the child and lying in wait."

He noted a Vince Lombardi quote that says "It is time for us to stand and cheer for the doer" and added some advice of his own.

"I'd like to change that quote just a bit and say it is time for us to stand and not only cheer for the doer, because although there's not much cheering for those who do, there's far less following those who do."

He challenged his classmates to make a difference and help eliminate scenes like that in the photograph.

"If each of us decides to follow a doer at some point in our lives, then we in turn become doers and therefore become people to be followed," he said.

Introducing himself as "the fast black dude that goes to the little, small school," high school track standout and salutatorian Justin Kremer talked about the legacy of living in a small community.

He recalled a rough transition moving here from Page and away from movie theaters, shopping centers, a skate park and pizza delivery, to Grand Canyon, where "you have to go 70 miles to see a stoplight."

Though there were drawbacks ("If you did something wrong, your parents knew about it before you got home," he said.), he noted that the canyon will always be home.

"It's only been lately that I realize how lucky we are," he said.

In closing, he urged his peers to stay in touch and to "root for me in the Olympics."

Walker spoke as someone who has called the canyon home for all of her life ­ though that hadn't been her original plan.

"On Thursday, May 1, 1979, I was sitting on this same stage, graduating from Grand Canyon High School and feeling very proud to be one of the 17 graduates," she said. "If somebody had told me that 25 years later, I would be back on this beautiful rim of the Grand Canyon, honoring some of my classmates' children, I would have had a really good laugh."

She recalled an old Phantoms cheer from her high school days ­ "S-U-C-C-E-S-S, that's the way we spell success" ­ and encouraged the students to define that word for themselves.

And though the graduates may be looking at success as something future, "I want you to know that the moment you were born, you were a success," Walker said.

She brought a box of props to illustrate a tool kit for life ­ for example, a pencil representing lifelong learning, a mirror representing the need to like who you are, a photo album as a reminder of the preciousness of memories and a package of tissues to remind that emotions are to be felt and expressed.

She also discouraged them from striving after a life of perfection, explaining, "We think we have to be perfect for other people to love us, when in fact, the opposite is true. We are loved for our imperfections, for our funny faces, walks, songs and dances." she said. "When you can go through life being kind, compassionate, loving, and forgiving, you have a great foundation for a happy life."

Also speaking was writer Scott Thybony, who shared observations wrapped in stories. For instance, a story on the capture of a pet alligator released here in Arizona illustrated a point about the unexpected.

"Remember when walking in the desert watch out for alligators," he said. "The world is full of surprises. Keep yourself open to the possibilities."

There was also a story about a woman who was both a rancher and a book enthusiast. Rather than choosing one or the other, on her ranch she opened a store specializing in books about the southwest. Though remote, her store was a success.

"Be the best and the world will come to you," Thybony said.

He also told of a photographer thrown from a boat but still shooting his subject, the boatman running a rapid.

"Remember, when flying through the air, keep shooting. Stay engaged. Stay connected," he said.

And his final story was about a teen who found himself the leader on a river trip after his father was hurt. He struggled with the reversal of roles, to which his father said, "Welcome to the real world."

"That moment will come to all of you in one form or another. maybe not as dramatically but it'll happen," Thybony said. "And when it does, that moment's going to draw out the best in you. Welcome to the real world."

Before School Board members starting issuing diplomas, Crumbo highlighted the scholarships garnered by the class of 2006 ­ valued at more than $750,000 in money and tuition waivers.

Though some $350,000 represented the value of Matthew Beckerleg's appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy, the remaining $412,750 dispersed among 16 scholarship winners was still impressive.

Locally awarded scholarships totaled more than $50,000.

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