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Free State High School celebrates resiliency of 2022 graduates

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Updated to add more photos at 11:02 p.m. Thursday, May 26:

A light breeze Thursday evening blew the tassels of Free State High School’s graduating seniors as some supporters donned winter coats — an unusual site for a late-May ceremony. With temperatures hovering in the high 50s, family, friends and faculty filled the football stadium to honor Free State’s 25th graduating class.

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One of two graduating seniors chosen to speak, Maxine Finch told peers whether they would take a gap year, remained undecided, or were headed to college, trade school or the Armed Forces – all of those options “are perfectly OK.”

In a speech titled “Blessed is the Individual That Stands Out,” Finch urged peers to maintain their uniqueness after feeling the pressure to fit in during high school.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Maxine Finch addresses her Free State High School classmates at commencement on May 26, 2022.

“I hope within the next period of your life, you all can learn to embrace the part of yourselves that society doesn’t, because that is what keeps life interesting and worth exploring.”

Finch, who plans to study communication sciences and disorders at Kansas State University a year after high school graduation, reminded graduates of their resiliency.

“We all survived a pandemic that robbed us of so many valuable experiences, but we all came out on the other side of it.”

Also selected to address fellow graduates, Chaney Finkeldei shared the pride she felt in her class. She said the COVID-19 pandemic had changed their experiences, but it wasn’t what defined them. She noted various memories made with each other, including gymnastic protests, athletic accomplishments in football and cross country, and records set in forensics and debate.

“When we look back as adults in 30 or 40 years, though we may remember COVID, what will come to mind the most are the memories that we made together,” Finkeldei said in her message “Don’t Be a Sheep.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Chaney Finkeldei

A National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist, Finkendei plans to study biomedical engineering at Boston University Honors College.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis addressed graduates as “the hope for the future,” and Lawrence School Board President Erica Hill urged them to remember the importance of “surrounding yourself with the right people” to “unlock the potential inside you.”

Outgoing Principal Myron Graber, set to retire this summer, praised the many successes of the class of 2022 in academics and extracurriculars. A list of reported scholarships earned by the graduating class can be found here.

Social studies teacher Jeff Haas was chosen by the graduating class as recipient of the Educator of the Year award.

Outside the stadium, graduate Joon Chun said he planned to attend college and play soccer. “It’s kind of crazy because high school just goes by so fast.”

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Graduating senior Oscar Wheeler said a job search was on his horizon. “I’m excited, happy that this chapter of my life is over and that now I’m going to start new,” Wheeler said. “I’m looking, gonna try to get a job. And then I’m gonna possibly look at JCCC (Johnson County Community College) for a science class. Still don’t know what I want to do yet, but just happy that now I have more freedom to do what I want to do.”

Grad Ashley Edwinson, too, said she remained undecided on her plans. “It’s exciting, a new fresh chapter into life.”

The class has grown accustomed to backup plans having spent more than half of their high school experience in the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceremony had previously been scheduled for Tuesday, but a forecast of persistent rain led school district officials Monday to announce the ceremony would be moved to Thursday.

Lawrence High School’s commencement, too, was rescheduled and is planned for 7:30 p.m. Friday at the school’s football stadium.

Lewis told the school board at its meeting Monday that Allen Fieldhouse was not available as a backup venue this year and any on-campus indoor sites would have required a ticketed entry due to limited seating.

2022-Commencement-program

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More — Graduation 2022:

Free State High School celebrates resiliency of 2022 graduates

Share this post or save for later

A light breeze Thursday evening blew the tassels of Free State High School’s graduating seniors as some supporters donned winter coats – an unusual site for a late-May ceremony. With temperatures hovering in the high 50s, family, friends and faculty filled the football stadium to honor Free State’s 25th graduating class.

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