Diplomas were awarded to 67 graduates of Olathe High School at commencement ceremonies held Sunday afternoon on Wilson Field.
As is the tradition at OHS, the ceremony opened with the recognition of the distinguished alumnus. This year's honored recipient is Don Stephens, a 1963 OHS grad. BJ Brown accepted the award on his behalf, because "Donnie" and his wife Deyon are out of the country celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
The Stephens, Brown explained, founded Mercy Ships, an international charity that has employed hospital ships to transform the lives of over 2.5 million of the world's most desperate people. The fact that the Stephens came from a small agricultural community that's a thousand miles from the nearest ocean illustrates the unexpected turns lives can take, but the grads of 2016 said they're ready to take that journey themselves. "Olathe High School has prepared us well," the class's valedictorians and salutatorian agreed. Brook Garrett was the sole salutatorian. Co-valedictorians were Dexter Flick, Alfred Jimenez, Rafael Nieto, Trent Rose, Jordan Solseth and Bailey Starritt. Each valedictorian graduated with a GPA in excess of 4.2 by taking honors classes and picking up college credit with concurrent enrollment. After individually sharing fond memories of teachers and classmates, they joined together for a quick "That's all, folks!"
The guest speaker was Kari Keller, a teacher, coach and club sponsor who graduated from Olathe High School, and is the mother of a 2016 graduate. "Where did the time go?" she asked tearfully. As a teacher at Olathe Middle School, she shared many experiences with the graduates, as well as many of the thoughts parents are thinking and saying at this juncture in their children's lives. Keller, who motivates her students to step out of their comfort zones and try new things, wrapped up her comments by quoting the song lyrics, "And if you ever get the chance, I hope you choose to dance."
Throughout the early afternoon ceremony, gusty winds sent graduates chasing after their mortarboards, until finally it was time to deliberately, and in unison, toss them into the air to celebrate the beginning of a new journey.