Aurora -- The local high school's biggest class in history received diplomas May 31, as 265 seniors marched across the stage, marking an end to their 13 years of elementary and secondary education.
The commencement ceremony took place for the first time at Kent State University's Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center. A Saturday evening ceremony also was a first in recent years.
Addressing the Class of 2014, AHS Principal Mike Roberto stressed five words stated many times by Ray Nowak, father of an AHS graduate who played on the varsity baseball team several years ago.
"He would gather the boys together before the games and instruct them to 'have fun, play hard, relax,'" explained Roberto.
"Having fun needs to be your first priority, but I admit winning is also fun, and you can't get there without the second statement -- play hard -- translated to 'do your best.' That's all that can be asked of any of us.
"Finally, if you're going to do your best, you need to be in the right state of mind and being overly stressed will never do. That's why it is important to relax."
By having fun, Robert said he means that in the future the graduates need to enjoy wherever they're doing.
"Enjoying the ride, including the ups and downs, and keeping it in perspective is key," he said.
Roberto told the classmates never to forget their deceased colleague Paulie McGhee, who was killed in a traffic accident 2 1/2 years ago.
"But also don't forget we didn't lose two other classmates," he said, pointing out salutatorian Ryan Sharafuddin and graduate Kyle Sutton, who both have overcome cancer.
"Both of these classmates are models for this mantra and will graduate in no small part to their attitude and approach to the hand they'd been dealt," Roberto said.
"WE CAN HOLD our heads high knowing that all of our papers and tests are behind us, and we can look at the future just as we would a [beautiful] sunset," said valedictorian Michael Kuryshev. "The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift."
He urged his colleagues to live for the moment. "Whether we plan to explore the darkest caves or the highest mountains, let's just take a breather and live for the moment," he said.
"Thanks to the teachers for inspiring us to imagine, think and believe. Thanks to mom, dad and every parent here who helped make us who we are, and thanks to my fellow graduates for making growing up in Aurora the greatest experience ever."
"Today, we all begin a new stage of our life, so whatever came before, take a leap of faith that the next stage will find you just as well off or better than this stage, and have no regrets," Sharafuddin told his colleagues.
He noted people seem to have an ambivalent and conflicted relationship with the past.
"John F. Kennedy once said, 'Change is the law of life, and those who look to the past are bound to miss the future,'" Sharafuddin said.
"That sounds nice, but then there are quotes about not forgetting your past .... and how the past affects the future, etc., so where does one draw the line between forgetting it and being trapped by it? I'm not sure.
"The teachers we've interacted with, the friends we've made and the experiences we've have, for better or worse, made us who we are today -- that we all have in common."
Class president Cameron Schnell stressed that through hard work, dedication and sacrifice, graduates can accomplish anything they set their minds to.
"You don't have to change for anyone, you just be you," he said. "The only thing standing between you and your dreams is that tiny voice inside your head telling you that you can't do it. We are all above that voice.
"As a class we've had great highs and great lows, but we overcame it all. We come from a great school in a great town. I don't care who you are, you've gotta love Aurora. Once a Greenman, always a Greenman. It's been great."
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