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’All of us stayed strong’ – Fort Osage graduates 344

Staff Writer
The Examiner
Graduates sing the alma mater at the end of Friday night's Fort Osage High School graduation.

Fort Osage High School

66th commencement, Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas

Class size: 344 graduates

Valedictorian: Aleesa Hill

Salutatorian: Christian Winigar

Post secondary: $846,794 in first-year scholarships awarded

Class speakers: Aleesa Hill, Olivia Hinkle, Rachel Rellihan, Nicole Overbay

Over the course of her speech, Hill noted that it was 4,720 days ago when she and her classmates started kindergarten, 140 days since classes stopped because of the pandemic and 84 days since their original graduation date.

“It’s kind of hard to remember 4,720 days ago when I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast,” Hill said, “and most of the time we didn’t have a care in the world besides what snack our parents put in our lunch bags.”

The ultimately last school day of senior year, unfortunately, bore some resemblance.

“Our last day should’ve been full of parties and goodbyes, and instead it was just another day that we hardly remember,” she said. “But all of us stayed strong to make it here today.”

Hill, who will attend the University of Missouri and major in electrical and computer engineering, said she turned down a chance to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a dream school for engineering, because she believed Missouri is where she will thrive.

“We have to make decisions that are right for us,” Hill said. “It was hard not to get lost in their vision of my future. In the end, the decision is yours to make.

“Each and every one of us will find our own definition of success, and that’s what truly matters to us.”

Hinkle said she remembers thinking when the pandemic hit about all the things she and classmates could (and ultimately did miss), then realized that what thinking about “what-ifs” was fruitless. She remembered an elementary physical education teacher who discouraged the question “What if?”

“Life after high school isn’t a game, what-ifs are controlling and this class is too great,” Hinkle said. “We cannot live in fear of being ourselves.”

Remembering a line from Pam in the TV show “The Office,” she urged classmates to “conquer your fears and act fast, because life just isn’t that long.”

“Graduates,” she said, “let’s go out and continue to make history.”

Rellihan, who plans to major in biology at the University of Kansas, said while graduation did not come on the anticipated calendar day, it’s not the date that matters as much as the people with which it’s spent.

“The Fort family for me means a place for everybody,” she said. “We are a class that gets involved, and we all have our passions we’ve used to define ourselves.”

Even as they were ripped apart by a pandemic, Rellihan said, “we still stayed together as a Fort family.”

While the pandemic prevented the normal situations for goodbyes, Overbay said, she’s “generally horrendous” at saying goodbyes. As a student usher at graduation two years ago, she said, she cried as soon as the graduates names started being read.

There’s definitely some parts of high school to which graduates are ecstatic to say goodbye. But, Overbay added, “There’s a lot of people around Fort that make this bittersweet. It hurts to say goodbye to the Fort family we’ve built over the years.

“Today is about saying goodbye, but there’s a lot of things we’re saying hello to.”

– Compiled by Mike Genet