The spring clouds vacated the Helena Valley on Saturday leaving behind a clear blue sky under which more than 600 Helena students received their high school diplomas.
Nelson Stadium was packed twice as family and friends gathered to attend commencement exercises for Capital High and Helena High schools.
“The sun actually shines in Montana,” said HHS Principal Greg Upham to a crowd that applauded the warm weather.
Bruin Jennifer Zeigler said it feels great to finally be finished with her high school career and moving on to the future. She plans to attend Montana State University this fall and study agriculture education.
Zeigler’s favorite memory of high school is the football games.
“It’s great when all your friends get together to cheer on the Bruins,” she said.
Bruin Neenah Dalton is also looking forward to life after high school.
“I’ll be glad to not be so controlled — to be out there and be free on my own,” said Dalton, who is planning to move to North Carolina.
Graduation is always exciting for educators, and after spending 12 years as an administrator and returning to the classroom, CHS teacher Don Foucar was proud of the students.
“Graduation is the day in which we see the fruits of our labor — it’s not just about the kids, but the whole community gets to celebrate,” Foucar said.
CHS math teacher Tirzah Bruzki was all smiles as she congratulated the graduating class.
“This is the best part of the job,” she said.
Mel McBeath of Clancy was at the first ceremony to watch his twin grandchildren, Alexis and Conrad Bentley, graduatefrom CHS. He says having twins runs in the family and it always brings twice the fun.
“Grandchildren are better than your own children, because you get to send them home,” McBeath said.
Bruin Shannon Buswell admitted she’s nervous about the future and not knowing with complete certainty what lies ahead. She plans to attend the University of Montana but is undeclared about what her area of study will be. Buswell picked the in-state college because she said she felt like she fit in.
“It just felt right,” the graduating senior said.
K’Lynn House, a CHS senior, will also become a Grizzly this fall and is considering nursing as a major. Her advice for those just starting out in high school is to take the hard classes early on and the easier ones senior year.
“You get senioritis really bad,” she admitted.
House also suggests getting to know lots of
“They aren’t always what you think they are,” she said.
Bruin Robert Whitten’s advice for high school is not to slack off.
“High school is where it counts,” the Bruin said.
Emily VanGenderen, Bruin senior, can hardly wait to get out of the Helena and move to California for college to study marine biology but is happy with her hometown and her experiences here.
“This is an awesome place to grow up — it’s a great community,” VanGenderen said.
Superintendent Bruce Messinger and Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock spoke at both ceremonies.
Messinger told the group of graduates to take care of themselves, to continue their education and to find their community.
Bullock, a HHS alumnus, said as the attorney general he makes hundreds of speeches but none haunted him so much as the one for graduation.
He spoke about life lessons and said students should live in a way that allows them to fail.
“Those who’ve had the greatest successes have had the biggest failures,” Bullock said. “It takes courage to get out of your comfort zone, but you’ll grow from your failures.”
But if there was one message that he hopes students remembered from his speech, it was to wear their seat belts.
Jerome Butler, of New York, was in town for the weekend to see his son, Nelo Butler, graduate from HHS, and helped with the Senior All Night Party.
“This is a wonderful gateway to the future,” he said.
HHS teacher Lisa Parker said graduation is a special day for students, their families and teachers.
“They finally made it through a big accomplishment, but this is bittersweet because there are a lot of special students in this class,” Parker said.
Bengal Alex Bostrom said she’s going to miss the friendships that are so easy to make with peers growing up and taking classes together.
She’s glad to be finished with all the required testing — until college, anyway. Bostrom plans to attend MSU and study multicultural and international relations.
Joe Lesofski said he’s favorite teacher at HHS was Henry Begler, a trades teacher.
“He always made the day fun,” Lesofski said.
The highlight of high school for Bengal Nikita
McKitrick was Jill Van Alstyne’s holocaust and crime class, but she could have done without government, she said.
An extensive knee surgery prevented Bengal Olivia Holter from walking at the event, so she instead was wheeled in a wheelchair.
“It’s not a big deal,” the friendly blonde said. “I’ll have college graduation to look forward to.”
Holter plans to attend UM and eventually become a doctor and governor of Montana.
Joseph Swain says he’ll miss his friends as he prepares to leave the Queen City and head to Missoula for college, and he says he’s already looking forward to Christmas break.
Swain’s advice for incoming freshmen is to work hard in high school.
“It can pay off for scholarships and getting into colleges,” the HHS senior said.
Bengal Jade Bogard said the hardest part of high school was getting all the homework done.
Basil Whaley offers two pieces of advice: “No matter what the occasion, always look fresh,” and “Don’t knock it, until you try it.”
Emily Harris, HHS senior, recommends having good relationships with teachers and not holding back interests.
“Do everything you possibly want to do, so you have no regrets when you are standing in line to graduate,” she said.
Lana Haynes was excited to see her youngest daughter, Gina Haynes, receive her diploma. The mother said she wouldn’t shed any tears about the graduation, but admits she’ll miss her daughter’s company after she moves to Utah to study physical therapy.
Incoming interim Superintendent Keith Meyer said he loves graduation day, and every year attends all three ceremonies for Helena’s public schools.
“As an educator, this is what it’s all about,” he said.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org