Homer grads spread their wings

Eighty-six high school seniors graduated from Homer High School and Homer Flex on Wednesday, May 18. Each senior finished high school with unique struggles, triumphs and goals for their future.

Homer Flex held its ceremony, which focused on resiliency and growth, at Land’s End Resort early in the evening. After staff members of Homer Flex gave individual commencement addresses and gifts to the seniors, each graduate had the opportunity to stand up and speak to the audience. 

“I came to Flex because (Homer High School) wasn’t really working for me. It was my plan to graduate a year early, and at Flex you can work at your own pace, so that way I was able to put my motivation to action,” said Homer Flex graduate Jessie Hiller after the ceremony. “That’s what made me be able to graduate a year early and it’s changed my life. I think some of my favorite memories are the not so good ones, because those are the things that kind of pushed me to be where I am today and I think if I had an easy ride at Flex … I wouldn’t have been so motivated to finish.” 

Hiller plans to travel to New Zealand before applying to college next year. She isn’t the only Flex graduate to take a gap year. Frank Hunter, a Flex graduate who took five years to get his diploma, is taking a gap year or two before studying either music production or game design, he said.

“It’s been long. I’ve been going there since 2012. I’m the oldest one there,” Hunter said. “I’ve been working hard. I got kicked out one year and came back the next year and now I finally graduated.”

Eric Hill said that Flex helped him even though he struggled with the traditional high school model at Homer High School.

“...(A)t Flex … they’re really there to get you through to what you need to do,” Hill said. “I was a shy person and now I can get up in front of everyone and talk and be perfectly fine with it, so it was perfectly good experience.”

“It’s resiliency for all of them. A number of them have dealt with homelessness and others have just struggled with passing grades and coming from Homer High to Homer Flex,” said Homer Flex principal Chris Brown. “So it’s been a huge challenge, whether it’s a personal challenge in life or getting credits made up. They’ve really had an amazing journey and for them to be there, it’s unbelievable.”

Homer High School’s graduation took place in the Homer High gymnasium, packed to the brim with family, friends and community members.

The Homer High School Swing Choir started the ceremony with the national anthem, followed by “Crossing the Bar.” Homer High teachers Mickey Todd and Francie Roberts gave a comical commencement address about learning to work with people who have opposite personalities or approaches.

Valedictorians Samantha Draves, Aurora Waclawski, Elise Webber and Daniel Wiest gave speeches to their classmates, focusing on the future and the challenges the graduates face in the coming years of college and career building. 

Each graduate took the stage, beaming as they shook Principal Doug Waclawski’s hand, took their diploma and hugged staff members on stage. The crowd cheered as names were read and tassels were turned from the right to the left sides of caps.

Waclawski, whose speech focused on the beauty art brings to life and the importance of living life in the moment, said she plans to go to Colorado School of Mines to study environmental engineering. Waclawski, a varsity basketball and track and field athlete, also was named a 2016 National Merit Scholar.

Draves, who was Waclawski’s teammate on the girls varsity basketball team and just finished a season of varsity soccer, said she wasn’t worried about whether she would make valedictorian or not. 

“I knew I wanted to turn in quality work,” Draves said. “As a freshman, sophomore, I wanted to really work hard because I had some friends in upper classes and I always heard about how hard it was and I wanted to put forth my best work. Junior, senior year it turned into, ‘wow, motivation factor’ sort of thing. Go for it, why not.”

 

Draves plans to study biology, chemistry or biochemistry at the College of Wooster in Ohio where she also will play soccer. 

Varsity soccer player Wiest, who is off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, sees the honor of valedictorian as an accomplishment, but also wanted to recognize his fellow classmates’ achievements.

“The distinction itself is an honor, but really I think much more than a title. There’s a lot of things that go into it,” Wiest said. “It’s the sum of everything and it feels good to be there, but I don’t want to take away anything from all my other classmates. They are amazing. I never said that I wanted to be valedictorian. I did say that I never wanted to not do my best, so I guess the two are pretty much in and of the same thing.”

Webber, known at Homer High for her theatrical talents, will participate in Illinois State University’s honors program for sciences.

“(Valedictorian has) been a goal of mine for a really long time, and it was that one thing I really wanted to get and it was not easy, but after a lot of studying and late nights, I did it,” Webber said. “I’m looking at molecular biology, but I’m not sure yet. There’s going to be a lot more things I’m going try ... Who knows where I’ll end up.”

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

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