BELDING — With 156 graduates standing before him, guest speaker Gerald Hopkins had one important question to ask of the 2014 graduating class of Belding High School.
“What will be your legacy?” he asked.
Each student will now be heading on a very different and unique path as they enter the next stage of their life, be it college, the military or straight into the work force, but Hopkins’ message applied to all.
“We are defined by how we choose to live our lives,” he said. “It takes courage to stand up for what is right. You will make mistakes, but it is what you learn from those mistakes that is most important.”
Each student, one step at a time, took the first step of their new journey into adulthood as they crossed the stage in front of thousands of family and friends to receive their high school diploma.
Smiles, cheers, and many tears and laughs, were shared throughout Redskin Arena as a community came together to celebrate the proud achievement of some of its brightest and most dedicated minds.
“We all have so much to look forward to,” class speaker Carrie Smith said. “Many of us are going on to college, or the military, or the work force, or starting a new life in a new city. There is so much that we can do with our futures. There is so much possibility. As this chapter of high school comes to an end, an exciting world of endless possibilities awaits.”
Clad in white and black in their graduation gowns, the girls in white and the boys in black, it was apparent this particular class of students shares a special bond when they clapped in unison together, three claps, and three claps only, quickly in succession, each time a student was recognized for their academic achievement on the day.
Hopkins, a 1989 graduate of Belding High School who today is the Superintendent of Kenowa Hills Public Schools in Grand Rapids, did his best to make the new graduates feel old.
He mentioned how popular internet mainstays such as Ebay and Amazon were established in 1995, the year many of the graduates were born.
And how web browser Internet Explorer, currently on version 11, had just released version 1.0 as many of the graduates had just entered the world 18 years ago.
But in a move to remind the students that the technology and trends of today should be embraced, Hopkins removed his suit coat and, to thunderous applause, replaced it with his 1989 Belding varsity letter jacket.
He then asked the class of 2014 to join him in a “selfie,” the act of taking a photo of one’s self with a cell phone.
As he turned around, the crowd of students behind him smiled, as they partook in a ritual together that was only recently established by the current generation of teenagers.
“Congratulations on taking the next step of your career,” he said. “Welcome to the alumni club.”
From there, each student received their diploma as Principal Brett Zuver called their name, and once all 156 students were seated again with diplomas in hand, it was time to complete the ceremony.
Through the large gymnasium windows that line the west wall, the sun began to shine directly onto the gymnasium floor, creating a glow around the graduating seniors.
“It looks like the sun is starting to shine at just the right time,” Zuver said.
And at that moment, it was time for high school to end.
“Will you please move your tassel from the right to the left?” Zuver asked. “Ladies and gentlemen, please help me congratulate the newest alums to Belding High School, the class of 2014.”
And with a collective throw of their caps into the air, with hugs shared cheers echoing throughout the arena, the community of Belding waved goodbye one final time to the senior class of 2014.