La PORTE — The Slicer gymnasium overflowed with pride Sunday afternoon as La Porte High School celebrated their annual commencement ceremony for the class of 2019. The ceremony was moved to the school's gymnasium after stormy weather prevented it from being held outdoors at Kiwanis Field.
Four hundred and forty-five graduates were packed into the back-up location, where friends and family members waited in the bleachers to witness the big event.
LPHS Principal Benjamin Tonagel presided over the ceremony.
"Today is a day like no other, as we celebrate the class of 2019. It’s about achievement and reflection. The historic milestone of 150 years makes the service even more special,” Tonagel said.
Tonagel made the audience aware of how far LPHS has come since its first commencement ceremony in 1869, which had “two, maybe three graduates.”
“Each graduating senior today, their cap and gown has a story," Tonagel said. "Some students have overcome great adversity and trials to get to this point, while others have had a likely or ordinary story. All are here today, ready to close one chapter of life with a diploma and are here for a new starting point.”
Guest speaker for this year’s ceremony was Vane Clayton, chairman and CEO of KPA, and fellow Slicer. He took the honor of speaking at the event after being invited by Tonagel.
Clayton addressed the graduates, “you have invested a lot in the last 13 years to get to this ceremony. A lot of people have invested in you. The world needs your capabilities, whether they are technical, scientific, entrepreneurial acumen, relationship awareness or artistic skills.”
Rachel Gerick, class of 2019 salutatorian, was next to take to the podium. She implored her classmates, “our years of perseverance are finally being rewarded. Let today be a reminder of our ability to succeed. Regardless of the difficulty, we will survive and we will always have people around us, willing to walk beside us.”
Tyler Benn then approached to give his valedictory speech. He shared with the class the most important lesson to come out of his experience.
“Don’t be afraid to try things for yourself, especially in this stage of our lives. As you all know, learning to manage your time is one of the most challenging aspects of high school," Benn said. "Personally, people have given me a lot of advice, such as ‘you’re not going to have enough time for this class’ or ‘don’t do marching band, if you want to have time for school.’ However, everything turned out fine in the end. I ended up making meaningful connections, and had character building experiences that otherwise would not have been available to me.”
Benn shared some perspective with his graduating class.
“As La Porte High School’s 150th graduating class, there have been many generations of students who have graduated before us that have made their mark on this planet," Benn said. "However, this is our opportunity to be an extraordinary class of intelligent, driven individuals that will embrace the challenges of the future with open arms. You have all been given the tools necessary to pave a future for yourself, no matter what you choose to do.”
The graduates then made their way across the stage to collect their diplomas from the LPCSC Board of School Trustees. When all diplomas were received, LPSCS Superintendent Mark Francesconi instructed the class of 2019 to symbolically shift their tassels to conclude the ceremony.