As another school year comes to a close, graduates of Verona High School were sent out into the world following the commencement ceremony last Friday. A total of 20 students made up the class of 2018, and each received his or her diploma on the evening in front of a large crowd of family, friends, school personnel and other guests in the gymnasium.

After some welcoming words and the National Anthem, graduates recognized the most important people to them in the audience with the presentation of flowers. Then, class president Rodrigo Salas introduced the night's commencement speaker, Shelly Gatton. A longtime special education teacher, Gatton will be retiring from her roles as vice principal and director of special services at the end of the school year.

Gatton began her speech by setting out a toolbox full of props, promising to get to that later, and jokingly asking if her hair looked okay. She then got right to the point in addressing the graduates.

"I'm not going to be up here to tell you everything's going to be wonderful and easy for you, because it's not," she said. "Life's a journey, and only you can decide the destination."

Gatton asked which of the graduates knows what they'll be doing for the rest of their lives but answered for them: "no one."

After sharing an anecdote from her own experience in fifth grade when her teacher told her she needed to "use her God-given talent to be a teacher," she explained the box of props. Inside the toolbox, she had items to represent the intended career path of each of the graduates. However, she explained, "a year from now, I won't be packing [the toolbox] the same way" because most likely some of them will change their minds.

To emphasize that point, Gatton said she had called up the families of each of the graduates to ask what they had wanted to grow up to be when they were children. The array of intended careers -- including doctor, WWF wrestler, princess, rodeo cowboy, paleontologists and policeman -- had little resemblance to the group's current plans.

But that's okay, said Gatton. "It's never too late or too early to be whoever you want to be."

Gatton wrapped up her speech by encouraging the graduates to, above all else, be happy and to have the courage to start over if they find they are not proud of where they are.

"Be brave. Follow your hearts. Follow your dreams," she said in conclusion.

Following Gatton's speech, class salutatorian Jonathan Freiburger addressed his fellow graduates. Freiburger, who said there probably hasn't been a decade since the school opened that he didn't have a family member graduate from Verona, congratulated his classmates and wished them luck in the next phase of their lives. He concluded by paraphrasing wrestling personality Ric Flair, saying, "Whether you like it, or you don't like it, we are the best class graduating today."

The final speech of the night was given by valedictorian Ben Stults. Stults took time to appreciate the small community that is Verona High School, saying that although other schools may provide students more opportunities for accomplishment, he would not trade the passionate teachers and staff at Verona.

Stults' speech centered on comparing the graduates to diamonds, and their parents, teachers and God to craftsmen. A lot of patience and effort is required of the craftsmen to help the diamonds through each stage of their lives. From rough rocks to refined, polished gems, the diamonds are sculpted carefully by the craftsmen.

Now, though, the graduate diamonds have to become their own craftsmen, according to Stults. Much of the work has already been done, but they are now responsible for improving themselves to shine as bright as possible.

Following Stults' speech was the presentation of scholarships, in which counselor Carolyn Schasteen recognized the students for earning more than $120,000 worth of scholarships.

After the presentation of scholarships and diplomas, Dr. Terry Winton presented to the audience the class of 2018, and the night was capped off by the traditional cap toss.