There were two obvious differences between the commencement exercises for Helena High and Capital High held at Carroll College on Sunday.
HHS had good weather for the morning event, but afternoon lightning forced the CHS ceremony to pause and flawlessly relocate from Nelson Stadium to inside the P.E. Center. The second visible difference was mortarboards — HHS students are allowed to decorate them while CHS graduates must keep theirs unadorned and traditional.
The ceremonies had many similarities too as more than 600 seniors said goodbye to their first 13 years of education and hello to a new chapter of their lives. They both had school board members speak and hand out diplomas. They both had loved ones with cameras attempting to get good photos from the stands. And, they both had well-known Montana natives for speakers. Nick Milodragovich, former Saints football team captain, filmmaker and co-owner of Pink Gloves Boxing spoke to the Bruins. Colin Meloy, leader and founder of Grammy-nominated The Decemberists and HHS alumnus, spoke to the Bengals.
Milodragovich used a puddle metaphor, telling the audience to jump right in — don’t avoid them — and use them to grow.
“Adversity in life is OK — it’s better than OK — and should almost be sought out because that’s where we learn the most and live the most,” he said.
CHS grad Tori Nickol was delighted to hear Milodragovich say girls are usually right. She said she was also left with the message that hard work pays off.
“And, he’s a Carroll kid, and I’m going to Carroll next year. So, go Carroll,” she said with enthusiasm.
Meloy told the crowd he agreed to speak at the event mostly because he was so shocked to be asked. He admitted he didn’t do particularly well in school, wasn’t involved in school government and didn’t attend a single sporting event.
Meloy said his travels have made him believe in “Montana exceptionalism.”
“No one in the world is like Montanans,” he said. “You guys are the cream of the crop.”
He told the students they come from trailblazer stock and the stuff that makes mavericks and pioneers.
“Montana exceptionalism may come from the landscape itself,” he said.
Meloy said the rest of the world pales in comparison, and it rests in the hands of all Montanans to continue to make the state better, to protect it and to cultivate it.
Each ceremony had student speakers. CHS students walked attendees through the trials and tribulations of each year of high school. HHS students each spoke about an event they viewed as devastating during their school years.
Mike McMillin attended the morning ceremony to witness his daughter, Michaela, graduate.
“I’m excited for her,” he said as the HHS ceremony was about to begin. “She did some hard work to get where she got, but little does she know the hard work is just beginning.”
Sierra Laskowski, of Helena, attended both the CHS and HHS ceremonies. She’s been working since she graduated from CHS last year and will begin school this fall in hopes of becoming a veterinarian.
Laskowski said students should get the most out of high school while they are there.
“Get an experience out of it,” she said. “Step out of your boundaries and do something new.”
Now that they’ve graduated, students have different paths on which they are about to embark.
Bengal Jesse Calder is going to take his generals at Montana State University this fall. He said he’s glad to be finished but feels some sadness because he has great memories of playing guard for the football team.
“We won’t be together as a class anymore,” he said.
HHS Senior Rachel Chovanak plans to attend Boise State to major in nursing and minor in dance. Classmate Kellen Swingley plans to become a Grizzly and study elementary education with plans to teach fourth-grade.
Bruin Dustin Blaney hopes to get a job as a welder. Classmate Shelby White is moving to Great Falls to attend cosmetology school.
“I do my mom’s, my sister’s and my friend’s hair already so I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” she said.
CHS grad Josh Fish isn’t quite sure yet what he wants his major to be, but he’s planning to begin at UM for the fall semester. His advice for future high schoolers is to keep up a high GPA, get involved with activities and not get too many black marks on your record.
Someone always has to be last, and for the line going into the stadium for CHS it is was Anna Lund. She said she’s glad to be finished with high school and plans to attend college in Minnesota this fall. Lund’s advice is to participate and be involved in everything.
“Challenge yourself,” she said.
At the end of the HHS line were Wyatt Winfield, Samantha Williams and Klancy Jones. The trio was delighted to be walking together since they’ve attended school together since elementary school at Radley in East Helena.
“I’m happy to walk with someone I’m good friends with,” Williams said.
Many HHS students decorated their mortarboards, and many CHS students complained about not being allowed to.
HHS graduate Colter Curey used a huge piece of cardboard to greatly enlarge his, and he used a matching maroon curtain tassel his grandmother gave him. Some HHS students painted flowers, some used glitter and spray paint, and others fastened their favorite action figures on top.
Bemoaning Capital’s ban on decorations, Bruin Haley McMahon said, “They don’t want us to express ourselves.”
Retiring CHS counselor Ray Pancich said he agrees with the school’s rule.
“We have a traditional graduation at Capital High,” he said. “Everybody is equal going in and going out.”
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081, email@example.com or Twitter.com/IR_AlanaListoe