Celebrations spilled out into the streets Thursday as 149 students marked their graduation during Ellensburg High School’s 2013 commencement ceremony.

Parents, friends and relatives let out expressions of pride, while celebratory shouts continued to ring out around Nicholson Pavilion nearly an hour after the 8 p.m. ceremony had ended.

Some graduates knew exactly what they want to do next. Some, like Hannah Marie Thornton, said it just felt amazing to finish school.

For Mackenzie Matthews, the night’s significance didn’t fully set in until after she walked down the aisle to receive her diploma. She said she was hungry during commencement, and was thinking about going out for tacos.

“It’s kind of starting to hit me,” Matthews said after the ceremony. She described the feeling as amazement and almost disbelief, like she had just been a lost ninth-grader starting out at EHS. She plans to work next year.

Fellow graduate Bob Bruya plans to attend the University of Miami.

“There’s so much work to do, I’m excited to keep moving on,” Bruya said. He compared the motion to a train. “I’m going to keep on chugging.”

Bruya said people who had helped him in the past — like teachers and coaches — were also on his mind during the hour-long commencement ceremony.

“Life is, among other things, wild and precious,” senior class adviser Dana Hamilton said during her commencement address.

The quote referenced a Mary Oliver poem. “Precious to me has been watching all of you grow.”

Hamilton’s son graduated with the Class of 2013, and she met some of its members as early as kindergarten.

“From kindergarten on, I have seen many of you grow from beautiful little cherubs, to gawky teenagers, to lovely young adults,” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton reminded students that life could get messy and unpredictable in the future.

“What will you choose?” asked Hamilton. “This is your life, not your parents’ life, not your future husband or wife’s life, not your children’s life, not your friend’s life. It is yours. Some days, you’ll be so grateful for this one life, and some days, you’ll wish you could trade it in for another. But it is yours. Choose wisely.”

Performances

The commencement ceremony featured student performances of songs by Stevie Nicks and the Head and the Heart, as well as music by the Ellensburg High School Band. Graduates Ciela Oncina and Nick Gylling gave class speeches before tassels turned and the Class of 2013 received their diplomas.

“We are here because of our memories,” Oncina said. “Our memories have shaped us into the people that we are and enabled us to move forward with our journey. In the last four years of our life, we have made some of the most important memories, the memories that we will hold onto forever.”

Oncina said graduates have to remember that change is everything.

“It’s as if we’re setting out on a trip and today marks the day that we finally get on a plane, our beginning,” Oncina said. “Looking back on everything that we learned in high school, we realize that our memories will give us the lift to take off down the runway. High school has prepared us to embark on this great road.”

Oncina said regardless of a graduates’ final destination in life, they all found themselves in the same position Thursday.

“This day didn’t come easily for any one of us,” Oncina said. “There are times when we all hit rough patches and thought we wouldn’t make it, yet here we are. We made it … And now it’s time to move forward full speed ahead. It’s time for all of us to take what we have learned, to recognize our accomplishments and to never forget how far we’ve come.”

Making the days count

Gylling thanked family, teachers, administrators, coaches and his fellow students during his speech.

“The cliché, ‘It will be over before you know it,’ has been repeated to me throughout my life, but only recently has it begun to sink in,” Gylling said. “It seems like just yesterday I was outside at recess playing freeze tag.”

Gylling encouraged students to follow the Mohammad Ali quote adopted as a motto by their class:

“Don’t count the days, but make the days count.” 

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