Amongst the cheers, applause and flashes of camera lights, the sea of purple over 300 strong entered the crowded field house for the last time as Waunakee students.
Some wore homemade mortarboards, but all wore expressions of pride and joy. Throughout the evening, references were made not only of students’ endings and beginnings but also of a beloved principal’s as well. Brian Kersten gave tribute and words of wisdom to his 26th and final graduating class of Waunakee Community High School.
Class president Nicholas Hanes, student council co-presidents, Hanna Russell and Jarrett Wulf reflected on the past 18 years of accumulated knowledge, experiences and accomplishments. The moment was bittersweet as students looked toward the future of success, failures and lessons learned. Appreciation for teachers and parents were expressed, as well as for Mr. Kersten’s leadership and the privilege to have been able to experience four full years under his guidance.
Ten years ago, Waunakee adopted the Laude System. The purpose of the Laude System is to “recognize students for the rigor of their academic program as well as their success in that program.” At its inception, Waunakee High School had 80 students who received a Laude Honor. The 2019 graduation class honored and recognized over 140 students. The top 10 Laude honor students were offered an opportunity to speak at graduation. Eight applied and two were chosen by faculty: Riley Collins and Jenna Grade.
Riley Collins spoke of Waunakee High School and the community’s many qualities, the greatest being acceptance. As a student with autism, Collins said he would never forget that acceptance, which helped him attain all that he did these last four years, including a perfect ACT score and National Merit Commended Scholar award.
Jenna Grade, a recipient of a National Merit Scholarship, acknowledged everyone’s high school experiences are different. But together students had the common bond of growing and changing and now celebrating and moving on.
In its 53rd year, the Waunakee Scholarship Fund started with 16 students. This year, 140 seniors participated by knocking on doors and stuffing envelopes resulting in over $50,000 to be shared by those students toward their schooling. Through the work with the Scholarship Fund, Tricia Ejzak expressed if there was one answer to reaching success, it would be “generosity” – remember generosity not only received but the generosity to be given.
For 26 years, Brian Kersten has addressed the incoming eighth grade class at the middle school and he expressed the pleasure and privilege of addressing each outgoing graduation class. Kersten exalted the many accomplishments of Waunakee High School students not only in academics but the arts, forensics, music, athletics and career and technical student organizations, contributing to the high school’s legacy and memories. As the 2019 newest alumni move forward, whether it be in post-secondary education, the trades, the military, mission work or taking a gap year, Kersten challenged graduates to think about the importance of life lessons, family, friends, health and developing a moral compass.
“Do well, but remember to do good,” Kersten advised.
Graduates will be given a small compass to remind each of them of their internal set of values in making decisions. A compass may also come in handy as the 2019 class motto begins to emerge: “As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own.”