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Graduation 'a step into reality'

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 10:08 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 10:09 a.m. CDT
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(Rob Winner – Shaw Media)
Ellen Witte prepares to enter the gymnasium for Indian Creek's commencement on Sunday, May 19.
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(Rob Winner – Shaw Media)
Jake Gullstrand enters the gymnasium for Indian Creek's commencement on Sunday, May 19.
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(Rob Winner – Shaw Media)
Graduates of the Northern Illinois University College of Engineering and Engineering Technology prepare to enter the main auditorium at the NIU Convocation Center on Saturday, May 11.
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
GED graduate Amy Potmpa of DeKalb celebrates with son, Owen, 5 on graduation day at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. on Saturday, May 18, 2013.
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(Doug Oleson)
Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com At 67, Jim Patnobe of Rochelle was one of the oldest graduates on graduation day at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. on Saturday, May 18, 2013.
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
From left to right, Ahleeyah Hyles, Naella Langston, Andrew Clark and Keshaun Langston celebrate on graduation day at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. on Saturday, May 18, 2013.
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
Christopher Cannon-Sherden (left) and Eric Carlton celebrate their GED graduation on graduation day at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. on Saturday, May 18, 2013.
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(Doug Oleson - doleson@shawmedia.com)
Retiring GKHS principal Don Billington, left, watches as graduates enter the gymnasium during graduation ceremonies at Genoa-Kingston High School in Genoa, Ill. on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.

The looks on their faces pretty much said it all.

“It’s exciting to know you’ve accomplished something big,” Andrea Lowry said.

“I now get to move on to a new chapter in my life,” Carly Ruehl added.

The two young women, who both plan to go into nursing, were among 150 students who graduated from Genoa-Kingston High School May 15. In most years, G-K is the first local high school to hold commencement exercises.

“That’s just the way it works out,” G-K Principal Don Billington said. “We tend to start early and we had a shorter Christmas break, but we got our number of days in.”

Billington, who said the state board of education requires every school to conduct 176 days of school, added that he always gives the seniors their choice of dates to graduate.

Many who graduate early are still competing on their high school sports teams. Reuben James, a member of the Cogs’ boys’ track team, said it doesn’t matter. “It’s almost over anyway,” he said at graduation May 15. “The sectional is on Friday.”

Indian Creek conducted graduation ceremonies May 19. Seniors at Cornerstone Christian Academy will graduate at 6 p.m. on May 24; Hiawatha at 7 p.m. May 24; Sycamore at 2 p.m. May 26; Hinckley-Big Rock at 2:30 p.m. May 26; and DeKalb at 10 a.m. June 8.

Steve Balster, the assistant principal at Sycamore High School, said it’s up to every school to determine the graduation date. Being in the Midwest, that can depend largely on the number of snow days a school uses during the winter.

The last five years, Balster said, the Sycamore school board has set commencement exercises on Memorial Day weekend. Establishing a regular date every year helps parents and out-of-town visitors make arrangements for parties and other gatherings. “It’s really benefited our parents and community,” he said.

Since passing grades have to be turned in by a certain date in order for seniors to qualify for graduation, Balster said seniors take final exams earlier than underclassmen, which is why graduation is often held before school actually lets out for the year.

School boards also have the right to decide to hold graduation at night or during the afternoon, and whether they want it inside or out. Holding it Sunday afternoon can discourage certain types of behavior. “Our ceremonies are always very dignified,” Balster said.

Kishwaukee College’s festivities are held indoors, either in the air-conditioned auditorium or the gym. One of the most moving exercises at graduation May 18 occurred in the college’s nursing pinning ceremony, which concluded with a reading of the Florence Nightingale Oath by candlelight, followed by a humorous, yet poignant, reading of Dr. Seuss.

Graduating from community college “is more exciting” than high school, Catlyn Cochrane of DeKalb said.

For Andrew Clark, earning his GED means he “can finally go to college and start my life.”

“It’s really important to accomplish a goal,” administrator Kate Snow said at Kishwaukee’s GED reception, “and then celebrate it.”

Despite their achievement, many Kish graduates said they were holding smaller celebrations than when they graduated from high school.

As emotional as graduation is for teenagers, it can be more so for parents.

Seeing her son, Eric Carlton of Genoa, graduate, probably means more to her than her own graduation, Melissa Kozlowski said. “It’s a big deal,” she said. “I’m proud of him.”

For Billington, who is retiring after 33 years in education, last week’s ceremony was the last one he will preside over. “That crossed my mind several times,” he said.

Jessica Zhe of Rochelle probably best summed up her graduation from Kishwaukee.

“It’s like a step into reality,” she said. “Now we have to find a job.”

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