BELDING — This was a year of many firsts for graduating seniors at Belding High School.
A new arena with an indoor track, auditorium, cafeteria and commons area, sports facilities — the list goes on and on.
Through a year of constant transformation, where the very school they attended changed dramatically before their eyes, the 140 graduates experienced their final moment as members of the student body Thursday evening before walking out of the school one last time as official alumni.
“Tonight, one of our last memories as Belding High School students will be closing a small chapter of our lives to open a new chapter,” senior class president Kendra Wekenman said. “This accomplishment would not be possible without the continued support from our teachers, family, friends and classmates.”
And those teachers, family, friends and classmates were on hand as the new Redskin Arena gymnasium was filled to capacity, with many parents with cameras and cell phones in hand rapidly taking photos, observing from the second-story indoor track.
Class speaker Emily Sluiter encouraged her classmates to move on and “be the best that you can be.”
“Growing up at Belding High School has brought each of us friends, irreplaceable relationships and memories that will last a lifetime,” she said. “Most of us never thought this day would come so quickly, but it’s finally here. Tonight we are welcoming the adventure that awaits us through the door to our future.”
Sluiter asked of her classmates, “Where will your path take you?
“I encourage each of you to think about the direction you are about to take your life and find a reason for which you live,” she said.
Before diplomas could be given, tassels could be turned and caps could be thrown, guest speaker and Belding High School alumnus Dean Cooper, an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets NBA basketball franchise, had a few final words of wisdom to deliver to the new graduates.
“If you have an electronic device, a cell phone, Blackberry, leave it on,” he told the students. “I might say something you find interesting and you want to use later or I might do something completely bizarre and you and your friends can have a good chuckle about it later.”
Cooper’s initial comment seemed like a light joke, but he landed on a serious note.
“You can do a lot of things on those devices, you have Internet access almost all the time,” he said. “But this commencement, it’s about something you can’t find on the Internet. What you can’t find on the internet is your purpose. You have to go out and find that.”
From there, Cooper asked the students to refine that purpose and cherish it.
“To this point in your life, most of your decisions, or a large portion of them, have been made for you,” he said. “You have the chance now to define what your purpose is. What gives you fire. What makes you get up every day. Once you find it, cherish it. When you find that purpose, live in the moment. Be great at what it is you’re doing now. Invest in ‘now.’”
Cooper stepped off the stage and gathered with the students to lead them in one last rally cheer of “Go Redskins!”
Students then walked across the stage a final time and received their diplomas as High School Principal Brett Zuver read their names.
In a final collaborative act, the students turned their tassels from right to left, acknowledged their achievement with a smile and threw their caps high into the air.
The seniors of Belding High School officially became alumni of their alma mater.