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Coal City graduates remember deceased classmate

Published: Monday, May 19, 2014 9:36 p.m. CDT
(Heidi Litchfield – hlitchfield@shawmedia.com)
Charlotte Onsen pins a purple ribbon on Lindsey Vanwinsen as a way to honor Alyssa Swyndro, a classmate who was killed in a car accident in 2013 and would have graduated with the class of 2014.
(Heidi Litchfield – hlitchfield@shawmedia.com)
Luke Clavin walked in the Coal City graduation less than 24 hours after he was in surgery having his appendix removed.
(Heidi Litchfield – hlitchfield@shawmedia.com)
Valedictorian Clay Kauzlaric gives his speech during this weekend's graduation ceremony for Coal City High School.

COAL CITY – In a sea of the Coaler colors of green and white, a purple ribbon stood out on the graduation robes of the Class of 2014 Sunday as seniors graduated from Coal City High School.

Absent from the lineup was classmate Alyssa Swyndro, who died Feb. 21, 2013, at age 16 from injuries sustained in a single-vehicle accident in the 6800 block of Whitetie Road. Her spirit lived on with her classmates as they donned purple ribbons to honor her memory as they crossed the stage.

“We had students who wanted to do something for Alyssa,” Principal Mitch Hamann said. “We’ve changed the lights outside to purple, and we’ve made purple ribbons for those who want to wear them. Purple was Alyssa’s favorite color.”

Swyndro’s best friends, Jordyn Peterman and Sarah Olson, said the day was bittersweet for them as they got ready for their life after high school without one of the people they built their dreams with.

“We had it planned. We were going to go to college together,” Peterman said. “She would be the one who would go the furthest.”

Olson said they believed that because Swyndro was the smartest of their trio.

“This is not anything like what we thought the day would be,” Olson said. “We’re glad we’re graduating, but we are sad to be doing it without her.”

As with most graduations, the day was filled with reflections, as well as anticipation for the future.

Megan McClean said prom was her favorite thing in the four years she spent at Coal City High School.

“Prom was the last time the class got to spend together,” McClean said.

For others, like Miranda Carter and James Harris, participation in sports is the memory they will carry with them as they move forward in their life journey.

Superintendent Kent Bugg said the district will miss this class of seniors.

“Academically and extracurricular, they excelled,” Bugg said. “They will be a hard class to replace.”

Hamann told the crowd gathered to watch the graduation, that the previous 99 classes paved the way for this class – and they did not disappoint them.

He talked of how they came together to console one another after the loss of Swyndro and worked together in the face of disaster, as they volunteered after the Nov. 17 tornado that hit their community.

Charles Elledge, president of the senior class, addressed the audience during opening remarks and left the crowd laughing.

“This year, it’s different. We aren’t just another graduating class,” he said. “We are the greatest class to grace the halls of Coal City High School.”

He told the teachers that just because they were graduating, didn’t mean it was the end of their time together.

“I expect you to accept my Facebook friend request tonight,” he said.

Salutatorian Kassidy Aldridge told her classmate to live in the now.

“Find something you are passionate about,” she said.

Valedictorian Clay Kauzlaric compared each year of high school to running one mile on the track, with four laps the four years spent at Coal City.

“When you make the last lap you are happy because you are almost done,” he said.

He said he’s never been sad after a race when his mile was done.

“I’ve wanted to be valedictorian since the sixth grade. This speech has been seven years in the making,” he said.

He said he personally wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

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.

This year, 156 students graduated Coal City High School, with 142 walking across the stage.


Some advice for incoming freshmen from the Class of 2014:

“Don’t ditch class and do your homework.” – Miranda Carter

“Don’t take Spanish.” – James Harris.

“Stick with your friends. Study hard, it’s going to matter most.” – Carly Seeley

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