Milan, Jac-Cen-Del and South Ripley hold
commencement exercises on Saturday, May 28

235 graduate from 3 schools

Wanda English Burnett

Students received the final word they were official high school graduates at ceremonies held across the county on Saturday, May 28.

Speakers at each ceremony had similar words of wisdom for the graduates and yet each had a distinct difference.

Five graduates of the class of 1942 from Milan finally had the honor of crossing the stage and being granted their diplomas. Milan High School Principal Rich Healy explained the exceptional ceremony was held with the blessing of the Class of 2011. “It’s not to take anything away from the present graduates,” he told The Versailles Republican.

In 1942, an outbreak of scarlet fever had the graduating class quarantined to their homes with no commencement exercises. They did receive their diplomas, but the moment every graduate dreams of was taken from them.

Roselyn McKittrick of Milan, was given credit for “getting the ball rolling” and Bonnie Walker of Milan High School, and others picked it up.

The only five members of the 1942 class who could be contacted arrived at the high school eager to participate in the graduation ceremony although it was 69 years later. They are: Leroy Edens, Edna Grossman Taffe both of Milan; Elizabeth Grossman Grace of Moores Hill; Gloria Hensley Murray of Southport; and Janice Wetzler of Greenwood.

“I think it’s just fantastic,” noted wife of Leroy Edens as someone helped him get his gown on even though he’s now wheelchair bound. Mrs. Elizabeth Grossman Grace said she couldn’t believe it. “Sixty-nine years later?” she questioned. But, all of them agreed it was a great honor and they were thankful to the class of 2011 for sharing a small part of their day with them. “It means the world to us,” Gloria Hensley Murray told The Versailles Republican.

The class of 2011 at Milan heard from four speakers, all classmates: three valedictorians - Kaitlin Marie Dickey, Arielle Nikole Noel, and Elaina Michelle Voss; and salutatorian Erin Elizabeth Seithel.

Principal Healy wished the graduates a successful and prosperous future and gave them one last instruction, to “take control of your lives.”

The second commencement exercises held in Ripley County on Saturday were held at Jac-Cen-Del where physics teacher Gene Westerman addressed the graduates.

The unique aspect of the 2011 graduation ceremony at JCD included honoring the graduating Class of 1961, of which Westerman was a part.

Several classmates from 1961 gathered and sat on the floor during the ceremony as they saw the Class of 2011 give speeches and make their way across the stage to receive their diplomas.

“I think they invited us here today to let you (class of 2011) see what you’ll look like in 50 years,” Westerman jokingly told the crowd. He took a serious note and encouraged the graduates not to withdraw into a shell like a turtle, but to take educated risks, get the facts, and then proceed. He explained graduation was an ending, a completed task. Commencement, however is a time of beginning.

There was a solemn moment when salutatorian Nicole Marie Wirth asked the audience to pause to reflect on beloved educator, Don Snedaker, who died in the school year, leaving students and staff alike with a void. She noted that May 28 would have been his birthday. Rebecca Lynn Wagner gave the valedictorian address.

Some county residents such as Lori Taylor of Holton, would attend yet another graduation ceremony for the day at South Ripley at 5:00 p.m. She was glad for the staggered times so she could attend all three due to having relatives in all of them.

South Ripley’s ceremony was a little more somber as classmate Tanner Tucker was remembered. Tanner lost his life in a car crash at the beginning of the school year.

Principal Bob Meyer reflected on the loss and noted the empty chair draped with a gown and flower saying it was the graduating class' request to honor their classmate and friend.

Best friend of Tanner and salutatorian, Samuel Stratton, had a different address. He told the crowd up front his speech was not typical. Among other things, he said he has learned that tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. He encouraged everyone under the sound of his voice to know where they stand with God (should they die). He then prayed and quoted a scripture.

Meredith Knollman gave the valedictorian speech using the word “fall”. She talked about the past, the present and the future the graduates now have ahead of them.

Before giving out diplomas, Dr. John Mehrle, superintendent of South Ripley schools, noted, “Today’s a big day....we’re all in this together.”

Diplomas were given and the ceremony, which had a note of solemn respect to that point, became a little lighter as the graduates lined the gymnasium floor in a square and celebrated by throwing their hats in the air, just as every other school had done that day. They were graduates. It was the end and also a new beginning.

Altogether, Milan, Jac-Cen-Del and South Ripley saw 235 graduate on Saturday.

Pictured top is Nicholas J. McClain, who was standing tall, 6'3", after he received his diploma from Milan officials on Saturday. Pictured middle, members of the Jac-Cen-Del Class of 2011 are seated clapping for classmates as they cross the stage to receive their diplomas. Pictured above is Christopher Matthew Brooks, sporting a big smile as he shakes hands with Robert Garcia, South Ripley School Board member. Also pictured is board member Randy McIntosh.