Ashley Blunke can hardly believe that she is now a graduate of Blue Springs High School.

Ashley Blunke can hardly believe that she is now a graduate of Blue Springs High School.

“I don’t think I will believe it until I hold onto my diploma, and even then, I am not sure it will be real,” she said. “I will of course miss my friends and teachers like Mr. (Evan) Manuel. He was a great teacher, and I learned a lot in his class. I think everybody did.”

Blunke was among 496 students to graduate from Blue Springs High School Sunday during commencement exercises at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. The class includes one National Merit finalist, two National Merit commended scholars and 46 Bright Flight scholars. Bright Flight scholars earned a score on the ACT in the top 3 percent of students in Missouri who took the exam this year.

The class of 2011 also earned more than $4.6 million in academic and athletic scholarships.

Graduates Madison Knapp and Austin Groves were selected to give the commencement address.

Knapp said she has pictured graduation a million times, but the actual experience is much different than what she expected. She said this marks the first steps into the real, unprotected world for the graduating class, and while challenges will be faced, Knapp said she knows her classmates will prevail.

“Everyone has challenges, but even through the bad times, we have had friends, family and teachers who just wanted us to succeed,” she said. “This part of our lives has been exciting, but life is moving so fast. Appreciate these moments. Remember your roots and your past 18 years of experiences. You have been given the tools to embrace the future with your heads held high. I am proud to be part of this group of 2011 graduates. We are the future. We are strong. We are proud. We are Wildcats.”

Groves said he wants to bring new life to the quote, “win at everything you do.” He said that must be the mindset from now on as the graduating class steps forward into the next phase of life.

“Everyone in this room has talents and gifts that can be taken to the next level, so take it and run with it. Don‘t just sit on it,” he said. “People cannot be consumed or controlled by something that is keeping us from winning. Keep your eyes moving forward as you go to the next stages of your life.”

Graduate Karah Mason said she will miss the simple things from high school, such as football games and spending time with her friends. She plans to attend MCC-Blue River before entering St. Luke’s Hospital’s nursing program.

“I have always wanted to help people, so I thought becoming a nurse would be a great way of doing that,” she said. “I think I want to be a pediatric nurse and take care of children. I have always loved children, and it would be nice to be able to help them when they are sick.”

Graduate Emily Bragaw said she will miss classes such as photography where she was able to use her artistic abilities every day. She plans to attend Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan. to play volleyball and study elementary education.

“It is exciting to graduate, but sad at the same time because I will be leaving everyone,” she said. “Apply yourself in high school. Work hard and apply yourself. Doing both will help you become successful.”