The 86 members of the Baldwin High School Class of 2017 received their final visual aid lesson together during commencement ceremonies Saturday.
Before his commencement address, Gerald Roach, a frequent substitute teacher at the high school, placed an oar with the word “persevere” written in paper letters along its shaft on the stage at Baldwin Junior High School.
The oar set up Roach’s speech on the documentary “Losing Sight of Shore,” which recounts the story of four women who rowed a boat in 2015 from San Francisco to Australia for breast cancer awareness. To accomplish that feat, the crew set goals, prepared, learned from mistakes and persevered, Roach said.
“Abraham Lincoln said if he had eight hours to cut down a tree, he would surely spend six hours sharpening his axe,” he said on the importance of preparation.
After the commencement, graduate Hayden Burkhart said he found Roach’s speech and frequent classroom visits inspiring.
“He has a great story to tell,” he said. “I’m happy he was our speaker. He was an awesome teacher. He knew how to keep his classes fun, but teach us at the same time.”
Burkhart said he would attend Fort Hays State University in the fall, but had not chosen a major. Four of his classmates were also planning to attend the western Kansas school, which would help make it feel more like home, he said.
Emma Bailey, one of 17 honor-with-distinction graduates in the class, established the Class of 2017’s place in history while addressing her classmates. She recalled that a teacher had jokingly said they were the best class in the school’s history when they showed up for their first day as freshmen.
“We all laughed,” she said before telling her fellow graduates she thought they may have been the school’s best-ever class. “Our class was special, creative, accomplished.”
In the BJHS hallway after graduation, Bailey said she had mixed feelings about the next step in her life. She plans to attend DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, to study economics and Spanish.
“I’m excited to leave, but sad to leave my friends,” she said.
Fellow graduate Josie Gilliland, who plans to attend Johnson County Community College for a year and then transfer to Kansas State University, said what made the class special was its togetherness.
“What made us special is we were small enough to get to know everybody in the class so well,” she said. “We were a big family. That makes it hard to say goodbye, but we’re close and will keep in touch.”
It was a family that embraced newcomers, said Adison Studer in her short address to her classmates. Studer, who came to Baldwin High School at the end of her sophomore year, said the class would carry memories from their years in the school with them throughout their lives.
“I didn’t start high school here, but I’m glad it’s where I finished,” she said. “You enter high school with so many expectations. Many of them don’t happen, but what does happen is better.”
Noah Buckley, another honor-with-distinction graduate, said the chance to stay in touch with his friends was an added advantage to his college choice.
“I was looking out of state, but I chose Kansas State after a late visit,” he said, adding he planned to major in geology. “It’s nice to stay in Kansas and near my friends.”