COAL CITY — When they entered Coal City High School, the Class of 2013 faced uncertainty.
They were “awkward,” missed buses and were nervous about the challenges that lie ahead.
In the four years since, they have emerged as “leaders,” eager to change the world. They have become Coalers, successfully navigating the triumphs and challenges of high school.
As they walked across the stage during commencement Sunday afternoon, though, it was toward a new set of challenges — the ones faced in that oft-referenced “real world.”
But as they did, it was with what appeared to be eagerness.
Smiles abounded in the gym at Coal City High School, as the hot, hazy day outside signaled another school year ended.
They high-fived and bumped fists as they walked down the aisles to their seats. Cameras flashed in the full bleachers as family and friends cheered their encouragement, and in at least a couple cases held up signs spelling out a graduate’s name and rocked noisemakers.
“[These graduates] have been leaders,” said Principal Mitch Hamann. “They have showed what it means to be proud to be a Coaler.”
The bill listed 159 graduating seniors.
Of them, Principal Hamann announced that 57 would be attending junior college, 54 would be attending a four-year college or university, and others would be entering the workforce.
Hamann also announced that three students — Shondalle Gage Castile-Washington, Zackary Alan Landers and Tyler Jacob Mason — would be entering the armed forces. The three received applause from the crowd.
Five students gave remarks during the ceremony, and each spoke of the possibility each graduate’s future holds.
Kasie Livingston, president of the senior class, said that life would be an adventure and encouraged her peers to make the most of it.
“We all have dreams,” Livingston said. “You have to take that dream and make it into a plan.
“The most fulfilling things are the things you have to work hardest for.”
Salutatorian John McLuckie remembered being what he called an “awkward middle schooler” and learning to channel his emotions into art.
“I hope one day that I’m not known as the guy who can draw really well,” McLuckie said, “but as the guy who made a difference with his art.”
Valedictorian Justin Riebe spoke of the potential every member of the graduating class has.
“There is nothing we can’t accomplish if we set our minds to it,” he said.
Then it was time to award the diplomas. Each student’s name was called out as they crossed the stage, drawing excited cheers from the crowd.
One of those students was Matthew Wise, who said after the ceremony that he’d been nervous entering high school four years ago, but was happy to walk across the stage.
“It was a bit scary coming in because you don’t know what to expect,” Wise said outside the gym. “It was exciting to finish.”
Graduation, of course, isn’t just about the students — it’s about the students’ families.
Wise was cheered on by his father, mother and step-mother, all of whom expressed pride in their son, who will be attending Joliet Junior College in the fall.
“It was fantastic,” his father, Dan, said. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
Graduation also indicates how much time has passed.
“It was hard realizing he’s all grown up,” Wise’s mother, Sandy Miner, said.
Once the diplomas had been awarded, Bill Fatigante, secretary/treasurer of the senior class reminded his peers of the four years they’d spent there.
“We have come a long way to this stage today,” Fatigante said.
Then, before members of the Coal City High School band played the recessional, Hailey Reilly, vice president of the senior class, summed up the day by offering some advice for the future.
You will face numerous challenges, Reilly said.
“Embrace those challenges,” she continued. “Embrace them with open minds.”