Free State High School’s class of 2011 takes graduation in stride

Elated, anxious or indifferent, the nearly 300 graduates of Free State High School managed to celebrate the completion of their secondary educations Sunday.

Now it’s up to them to decide where to go, what to do and how to build on the lessons learned while attending the school in northwest Lawrence.

“Today’s the ending of one story, but it’s also the beginning of another,” said Michael Lembeck, addressing his classmates and the crowd at the Firebirds’ stadium.

Lisa Scott knows what she’ll be doing, just not exactly where: She’ll be off to college, either at Haskell Indian Nations University or Kansas University, likely to study history and education.

With 20 family members and friends in the stands, she couldn’t help but smile as she protected her bright eyes with white-rimmed sunglasses.

“It’s a pretty big day for me; I’m the first one in family to go to college,” Scott said. “I just want to work really hard and get farther in life. … It took forever, but the year went by really fast.”

Estefanie Reynoso broke out the silver nail polish for the occasion, a unique measure to set her apart in the sea of green robes gathered on the football turf.

“It’s kinda scary because we’re going out into the real world,” said Reynoso, who plans to study cosmetology at Johnson County Community College, then move to Los Angeles to be a hairstylist. “It’ll probably take like a week for it to set in that I graduated, and that I don’t have to go to school (here) anymore.”

Jose Mendoza figured Sunday’s commencement would come, calling it “a matter of time” for those who put in the effort and “stay with it long enough.” During his three years of high school and freshman year in junior high, he managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA, enough to be named one of 20 valedictorians; he also earned membership in the National Honor Society, and wore a medal with “Principal’s Mark of Excellence” etched on the back.

But he shrugged a bit when considering the significance of finishing high school.

“For me it’s kind of indifferent,” said Mendoza, who plans to attend Kansas University as he pursues a career in dermatology. “I still have college next year. I know I have another hurdle. This is only the beginning.”