The 128th graduation celebration at Aurora High School featured 132 graduates, including many who received college prep certificates and/or distinguished diplomas after their years of hard work in high school.
The graduates processed in to the middle of Kelley Field accompanied by "Pomp and Circumstance," as performed by the high school band before being welcomed by Superintendent Travis Shaw.
After story to liven up the crowd, Shaw introduced the students who earned honors in the cum laude system, beginning with the cum laude graduates and working up to the top honor of summa cum laude. Those graduating with the top honor were (in ranked order) Jeffrey Bodeen, Katlyn Powers, Caleb Baker, Michael Brock, Emily Parker, Morgan Montgomery, Gavin Briggs, Audria Conn, Ashtyn Crockett, Rachel McManus, Jordan Bussard, Sarah Cornell, Kalli Bolger, Peyton McGlothlin, Samantha Sharpe, Tatem Marbut and Karina Ortman.
Shaw then introduced the first class speaker, Mikayla McGlothlin, who recalled thinking, on both the first day of kindergarten and the first day of her freshman year, "What if they don't like me?"
McGlothlin said this question came from her perception that school, and high school in particular, was a "scary place," but it proved to be nothing of the sort. After recounting moments and memories from her senior year, she concluded that she had made a special bond with her classmates.
"I loved these kids -- every one of them," she said, lamenting the timing by adding, "Just as I started to like them, our time together was almost up."
McGlothlin encouraged her classmates to aim high because there is greatness in each of them, and she wrapped up her speech by reminding them that despite life taking them in different directions, "Aurora will always be home. The class of 2017 will always be home."
Following McGlothlin's address, the class song was performed by singers Tristan Milligan, Karina Ortman, Tahleatha Robinson and Abigail Williams, accompanied by Wyatt Neff on guitar.
After their rendition of Trace Adkins's song "You're Gonna Miss This," Shaw then introduced the second senior speaker, Sarah Cornell.
Cornell invited her classmates to recall what they learned throughout high school, saying, "Despite how hard all of this may have seemed, it was clearly worth our time if we just take a few steps back and look at where we are now."
She gave examples of the many lessons the class had learned over the years, both in and out of the classroom. But one lesson, she suggested, was more important that all the others: "We learned the art of growing up."
This growing up process, according to Cornell, included the class's ability to find common ground together despite cliques and its high level of determination and hard work.
"That is the kind of dedication that will get us somewhere in life," she said. Cornell also echoed McGlothlin's sentiment that their class will always be their home.
"No matter how far apart we may travel," she said, "I know our souls will stay intertwined."
Cornell ended her speech by thanking her family and friends, as well as school staff, band directors and teachers before thanking her classmates themselves, ending with one last note of encouragement.
"Each and every one of you are going to do great things in this beautiful world," she said.
After Cornell's address, four students were presented with degrees from Crowder College. Kim McCully-Mobley presented the degrees to Kalli Bolger, Karina Ortman, Katlyn Powers and Rebeca Mejia, each of whom had also been recognized at the graduation ceremony at Crowder the day before.
The class was then presented to the board of education before coming forward to receive their diplomas. The graduates then processed out of the ceremony, accompanied again by the band and with their class motto in mind: "Our lives are before us, the past is behind us, but our memories are forever with us."