Even as the second-ranked student in Van Horn High School’s 2013 graduating class, Judit Guillen still had some reason to be nervous before Sunday’s commencement exercises at the Community of Christ Auditorium.
“You know it’s coming,” Guillen said of graduation while she and her classmates prepped in the basement, “but when it’s here, a rush of emotions fills you up and you don’t know how to feel.”
Serving as one of the two class speakers for Van Horn’s 57th commencement exercises – an assignment she knew about for a couple months – is what had her a bit on edge.
But during that speech, Guillen urged her fellow graduating Falcons – numbered at 165 – to “take that raw emotion and turn it into forward motion.”
“I’m humbled and proud; proud not only of myself but all of us,” she said to the crowd. “We had our work cut out for us at Van Horn, but we’re making Van Horn better. In turn, Van Horn has played a role in bettering us.”
And while Guillen is a Kauffman Scholar with a full scholarship to the University of Kansas, where she plans to double major in nursing and Spanish, she can appreciate the struggles some of her classmates had to earn a walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.
“It gives you a sense that it’s whole,” she said, “that it’s not just you but also a bunch of friends.”
Trey McNally, who served as student body president and plans to major in early childhood education at Park University, acknowledged that graduation had him a bit choked up.
“I’m glad to be leaving, but I will definitely miss Van Horn,” he said. “Since I’ve put in so much time there, it’s kind of hard leaving.”
Before top-ranked student Summer Harvey gave her speech, she invited McNally to join her at the podium and present honorary Van Horn diplomas to Jim Hinson, the outgoing superintendent of the Independence School District who will take over the Shawnee Mission district across the state line, and Jim Netzer, who is retiring after five years as Van Horn’s principal. Netzer guided the school in its first years as part of the Independence district after switching from Kansas City.
“I was really fortunate,” Netzer following the ceremony. “I got to hire most of the staff, and we had a lot of good things happen.”
Harvey, who is heading to Missouri State University, reminded her classmates that the teachers and counselors who helped guide and push them through high school can’t be around anymore.
“From here on out, nobody speaks for us anymore,” she said. “This is a call to action, a call to adulthood.”
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