MARSHALL - For most students, high school graduation is a bittersweet time in their lives. That certainly seemed to be the case for the 10 who represented the first-ever graduating class at Marshall Area Technical and Educational Center (MA-TEC) Tuesday morning.
In the emotionally-charged ceremony, it was also clear that the moment was also bittersweet for the MA-TEC staff, including Assistant Principal Michelle Noriega, who gave a welcome speech.
"We are sad because the students we are so proud of and care so much about are leaving us," she said. "But we are joyous because we know that all their struggles and hard work have led to this moment when they will move on and become the successes we know they are destined to be."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Principal Brian Jones, left, hands a graduation certificate to Owen Hess during the 2014 Marshall Area Technical and Educational Center (MA-TEC) graduation ceremony Tuesday morning.
Noriega said the MA-TEC staff felt like parents saying goodbye to their children who are leaving the nest for the first time.
"We cry and smile at our babies," she said. "We want to be brave for them and yet we must let them fly and experience the world for themselves. Know graduates, you will always be in our thoughts and prayers, and we wish you all you dream of."
Two senior class speakers shared their thoughts during the ceremony. Kari Kuehnel-Reynolds spoke about being a sophomore dropout who had attended 36 different schools before finding a home at MA-TEC, which was previously called Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative.
"MA-TEC is honestly a miracle from above," Kuehnel-Reynolds said. "And the MA-TEC staff, who know we've went through more than we should have, put their lives on the line and treat us like their own children. We wouldn't be where we are now if it wasn't for them. They've been here for us for our eighth, ninth, 10th chances and beyond."
Kele Moudry pointed out that everyone has stories to tell and that the future can be what you make it.
"I'm not psychic, so I don't know what my life will be like in the future," Moudry said. "But a year ago, I wouldn't have seen myself up here speaking at graduation. So I'm proud of myself. I believe that when you work hard enough, you're up for any challenge that comes along."
Moudry also quoted his idol, musician Corey Taylor, who said "Because in the end, everything we do, is just everything we've done." Moudry sees his future playing out somewhat differently, however.
"I want what people to remember about me to not be an act, but rather, how I made people feel," Moudry said. "I want to be a friendly face, somebody who made life better."
Like others, Moudry felt bittersweet about graduation.
"MA-TEC is where opportunity begins," he said. "It's been a home since I came here. We should all be proud of what we've done."
More tears were shed throughout the room as graduate Tyler Kiecker played guitar and sang Carrie Underwood's "Don't Forget to Remember Me," with Kuehnel-Reynolds.
"We are going to miss these guys," Noriega said. "They're so talented. Life sometimes gets in the way, and you don't get to notice that, but these graduates shined."
Noriega noted that the staff and students truly bonded more than usual during the transition phase from MECLA to MA-TEC, which included an arduous move to a new location.
"They're just kids, like anyone else, who want attention and want to be loved," she said. "Despite everything they've been through, they still have a positive attitude and work hard. "
Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said the graduates represented students from "multiple districts," which is why MA-TEC is geared to be a regional education center.
MA-TEC language arts teacher Emily Snyder began the keynote address by thanking the graduates for "the incredible honor" of speaking at their graduation ceremony. Snyder then followed up with typical graduation wishes, like taking on challenges, following your dreams and trying to change the world. She pointed out, however, that the graduates had already done that.
"These are all admirable things to do, but you have already done these things," she said. "You've already taken on challenges, and you've changed the world for yourself, your family and the staff here. And graduating has been a dream for many of you. I think that needs to be applauded."
Snyder continued, stating that the graduates had also been privy to "the real world" already, too.
"Some of you have found that it's not all that it's cracked up to be," Snyder said. "But you're more equipped now. It'll still be hard, but you can handle it now."
Snyder recommended that graduates make good choices and then she quoted T.S. Eliot, asking: "Do I dare disturb the universe?" She then offered her suggestion.
"My answer is, heck yeah," Snyder said. "But do it in a positive way. So go disturb the universe and make good choices. You've heard me say that all the time. Think about how to embrace and grow from your mistakes. Make those mistakes work for you.
"I'm glad to have known you, and I'm incredibly proud of you."