Steve Jones has helped Carroll College set up for 20 some high school graduations and on Friday was preparing for a doubleheader on Saturday.
Helena High School’s class of 2016, some 375 strong, assembled at the college’s Nelson Stadium at 10:30 a.m. The last of the celebrants was still leaving when most of Capital High School’s 283 graduates, parents and friends began to arrive for their 2 p.m. ceremony.
Jones, 62, is the college’s director of athletic operations and facilities and a graduate of Clyde Park’s high school class of 1971. His graduating class numbered 11 and from there he went on to earn a premed degree and certification for teaching.
He was the student body president for his high school class and gave the address on graduation day, he said.
Jones smiled when asked what message he had for his classmates and said that was a long time ago.
“I guess I talked about memories I had in high school,” he said
Graduation, he explained, was a time to be done with high school “and time to move on to create new goals and aspirations. ... Time to start anew.”
Graduation was a culmination of the celebration of growing up, time “to move on and find out what the world’s like,” he said.
Saturday’s graduates were also interested in moving on, with some leaving for college while others had plans for military service or going into business.
Helena High’s graduates -- the women in white gowns and caps while the men wore burgundy attire -- waited in the college’s gymnasium before lining up and walking across a parking lot to where their ceremony awaited them.
Many held lime-green helium-filled balloons that were released during the ceremony in memory of two members of the class who had died.
The brightly colored beach balls that perhaps a couple of dozen Helena High graduates carried would be tossed among them as they sat on metal folding chairs during the ceremony.
Caps of many of the graduates were decorated with flowers, photos or a few words to capture their thoughts: Dream 2016, Adventure, Just Did It and Off to Capture More Memories were but some of these expressions.
Natalie Nix, of Lewistown, said Saturday and its graduation ceremony meant much to her.
“I didn’t think I was going to graduate as I have an 8-month-old baby,” she said. “So it’s her day too. ... I didn’t think I could be a student and a mom at the same time.”
Her plans for her future were toward college and perhaps a career that involved public speaking.
“It’s a big accomplishment today,” the 18-year-old said before joining the rest of her class in the gymnasium.
Lenny Winterburn, 18, is from Helena, and he too had earned a seat before the stage in the center of the college’s football stadium.
“It’s a big step forward, a milestone in my life,” he said.
“The next step’s pretty exciting,” Winterburn continued and explained he would be attending Montana State University in Bozeman where he plans to major in international business.
“The global economy’s booming. It’s good to kind of expand my horizons,” he said.
Yet this day was bittersweet for him too.
“I’ll miss all my friends, for sure.”
Nicolette Kleppelid, 19, of East Helena would introduce Dr. Jennifer DeVoe, a 1989 Helena High graduate who would give the class address. Despite Kleppelid’s composure, she confided that she was really nervous.
Graduation, she said, “it pretty much means my entire life is ahead of me and I can do whatever I want.”
“Now that I’ve accomplished something, I feel like I can do anything with my life,” she added.
And Kleppelid’s plan would next have her enroll at the University of Montana in Missoula to study political science or sociology.
Working with the state’s Democratic Party for a few months fostered her interest in politics and civil rights, she said.
But the gravity of graduation day had yet to take hold of her.
“I feel like I’m going to get really excited or sad,” she said.
Just as their ceremony would conclude with caps flung into the air with abandon, so would the ceremony for the Capital High School graduating class, where a rain of yellow and brown caps signaled a new beginning for them.
“It’s the start of whatever I’m going to do in my life,” said Jackson Maynard, 17, of Helena, as he and other Capital High graduates arrived for their ceremony.
“Everything I’ve worked for in school and out of school has culminated with this day,” he said.
He plans to attend Montana State University to study conservation biology and ecology. Law school could be next as both of his parents are attorneys.
“I feel like my years of being interrogated at the dinner table have prepared me for this,” Maynard added.
Kyleigh Schulte, 18, of Helena, saw the significance of Saturday’s ceremony too and said, “It means I get to move on with life and get to join the military; so I’m pretty excited.”
Joining the National Guard will be her first step, she said.
“It’s always been a childhood dream, a goal for most of my life.”
Once she’s part of the Guard she plans to seek active duty status.
Aaron Rau, 18, is from Helena and said graduation opens doors for him, allows him to move ahead with life.
He also sees it providing him with opportunities, he added.
Rau is open to possibilities and said they may take him out of state or maybe allow him to “create a dream here in my home state.”
He’d like to be able to start his own business, he said, and help others get ahead in life.
Savanna Bignell, 18, of Avon, calls graduation day “An end of this chapter and ready to embark on the next chapter of my life.”
She’s been waiting for her turn, she said, and watched others in classes ahead of her as they filed up to the stage during graduation ceremonies.
Bignell will attend the University of Montana Western in Dillon to study for a physical education degree and to play basketball.
And with a college degree she would likely look for a job as a teacher, she said.
So as the Capital High class sat beneath a near cloudless June sky and afternoon sun that pushed the temperature into the 80s, they listened to some advice.
Matt Kuntz, executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness-Montana and a 1995 CHS graduate, told them of the importance to be authentic.
“There are 7 billion people in the world. None of them have your experiences, your talents, your background. And you don’t have theirs. And if you stick to who you are, and if you know who you are, you’re going to achieve amazing things,” Kuntz said.
“Aristotle said knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. In the past 13 years of public school, you’ve got a good feeling for what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.”
“Follow that vision,” he continued, “You know yourself, you know what you love: chase it. Don’t wait for anybody’s permission. And also avoid what you don’t love.”
You’re going to have to work really hard in some of the jobs you don’t like, and those experiences will carry you forward in your career, Kuntz said.
“To strive for what you want is to risk failure. And eventually the math’s going to catch up to you. You’re going to crash. And that’s not a bad thing. That should not keep you from going after your dreams.”
Learning how to fail and move on was among the lessons he said he was taught while attending West Point.
“Winston Churchill said that success consists of going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm. And I know that’s true,” Kuntz said.
It’s important to be agile and adjust to situations, he said and cautioned that life will change those plans for life.
Spend time working on your belief system because life will test you and you’re going to have to rise to the challenge, he told the Capital High graduates.
“And you don’t want to figure out what you believe that day. It’s like learning how to swim after you get tossed in the lake. Do your homework before hand.”
Protect your humility, he said, and realize you don’t have all of the answers.
And lastly, Kuntz offered, don’t doubt what you can do from Montana.
“You can do huge and amazing things from the Big Sky country,” he said.