LAKEWOOD — A crowd of hundreds left standing room only in the Lakewood High School gymnasium, as the class of 2013 — decked out in caps and gowns in Cougar colors — prepared for their transition into life after high school.
The Lakewood High School band played Pomp and Circumstance as graduates filed into their seats, to the cheers and celebration of the crowd in the stands.
"I wish you all many possibilities in your future," said LHS Principal Dale Leach, as he introduced Ryan Summers, valedictorian.
Summers took the stage and described his experience climbing to the peak of a mountain and the lessons he learned along the way.
"Never give up and never stop trying," he advised the group of seniors. "There was a time when I almost gave up and told myself I couldn't do it. I put one foot in front of the other and told myself to just make it to the next hill. And when I got there, I told myself to just make it to the next one. Eventually, I just said 'No. I can keep taking one more step.' If I could take one more step, I was going to take it. If you keep taking one more step, you can become whatever you want."
The musical group Swingbeat performed the song, "It's Your Life" as onlookers searched for cell phones and cameras to record the memories.
Class speaker Cameran Wheeler was elected by his fellow Cougars to make a speech at the commencement ceremony and began by giving a shout-out to his Mom, which elicited a resounding, 'Aww' from the crowd. He recounted a Cougar victory over rivals Archbishop Murphy in a 49-0 football game, which drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd as well.
"It's crazy to think that those memories are our entire high school experience," he said. "All these people have different goals in life, but this isn't goodbye. This is, 'See you in 10 years when I'm significantly smarter, wealthier and more good-looking than I am now!'
Wheeler drew a laugh when he thanked teachers for "taking all those bribes" and when he invited everyone in the crowd to pull out their smart phones and open up their Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts and hashtag his name. He left the onlookers in good spirits as faculty speaker Jeremiah Wohgelmuth took the stage — briefly.
Wohgelmuth described how as a teacher he began a "Monday Funday" routine that changed the students perspectives on coming back from a weekend.
"It's about changing your perspective, preparing for what's next," he said, as he stepped off the stage and walked beside the graduates to take a post in the bleachers in the midst of the crowd. "Do you focus on things as if through a microscope? Or through the wrong end of binoculars?" he asked, describing how his young son had looked through the wrong end of binoculars at him and said, 'Dad, you're so far away!'
"I'm right here," Wohgelmuth had said, and his son, still looking through the binoculars, had reached out to touch him.
"You just have to change your perspective sometimes," Wohgelmuth advised the students. "You need to reach out and find something that's been right in front of you the whole time. Don't be afraid to try and fail. Perfection is impossible. Excellence is not and greatness is not. Be both."