EWEN - A "family" of 20 graduates laughed, cried and celebrated as they took a "monumental step" Friday night during Ewen-Trout Creek High School's 47th commencement ceremony at the school in Ewen, according to student speakers.
"When I think of my class, I think of us as one big, happy, dysfunctional family, and I wouldn't trade that for anything," graduate Alexis Brady said during her salutatorian address. Brady spoke warmly of happy memories the students created together, saying she was proud to have grown up together with her 19 classmates.
"At the end of the day, we have each other's backs," Brady said.
She thanked everyone for sharing the occasion and all those who helped her reach the "monumental step" of earning her diploma, with a special mention of her parents and family, tearing up when speaking directly to them.
Much of the students' success was because of the school faculty and staff, as well. "Because of all of you, we now move on," she said.
Graduate Taylor Niemi, who spoke as valedictorian, senior class president and student council president, said the group had leaned on one another through years of successes and failures, coming out a family in the end.
"I felt that my class was one that made it easy to come to school," Niemi said.
She delivered an emotional speech, nearly overcome with tears when describing how proud she was of her classmates "conquering their goals."
She teared up again when thanking her family for their support, attributing her commitment and hard work to them. "I would've never made it this far without their love, guidance and support," she said.
Niemi also thanked the school and community for standing behind the class. "You've made such a safe and great environment for us," she said.
Guest speaker Nancy Gatta, an English teacher at E-TC, said while she often views herself as the teacher, she learned many things from the class of 2014.
"They have in fact shown me that I should trust my students more, believe in my students more," she said. "I would like to thank these graduates for the myriad opportunities to learn."
Gatta discussed a lesson this school year when the seniors read "Divergent" by Veronica Roth. The book is set in a dystopian world where adults try to fix what's wrong with the world, but the youth find themselves trying to fix a broken system, Gatta said.
As a capstone project, seniors had to write a manifesto for an imaginary group of people detailing their beliefs and what character traits they value most that could make the world a better place, similar to the groups in the novel.
Gatta read excerpts from each student's project, with values ranging from freedom to forgiveness to protecting others.
"These graduates have taught us well," Gatta said after reading the notes. "Will we learn from them?"
Student accomplishments were lauded and detailed in lists of scholarships won.
The graduates' pride and excitement were obvious as they grinned while receiving their diplomas, mugging for cameras as parents and family rushed to the front to take pictures.
The class took time to congratulate one another during the "senior class moment," hugging, high-fiving and wiping away more happy tears.
The love, support and pride of parents, family members, teachers, staff and the community was palpable when the audience erupted in cheers, applause and whistles as the class of 2014 turned their tassels from right to left, officially becoming graduates.