A total of 366 members of Atascadero High School’s Class of 2017 marked the end of four years of hard work during a commencement ceremony Wednesday, leaving a string of major accomplishments in their wake.
Short and sweet as always, the AHS graduation ceremony kicked off at 6 p.m. with a performance of “Pomp and Circumstance” by the Greyhound Band as students marched onto the field under the hot evening sun.
After senior members of the school choir performed the national anthem, AHS Principal Bill Neely recognized this year’s co-salutatorians, Brittney McKinley and Tegan Fleishman. McKiney served as the yearbook editor, volunteers to work at all-comers track meets each year, and also competes as a sprinter. She currently holds the school record for the 100-meters. She has been an active member of Friday Night Live and volunteers at the Sunday school at her church. McKinley plans to attend Bowdoin University, a prestigious liberal arts college in Maine where she will study English and compete with the Division 3 Track and Field team.
Fleishman was very active in school government, serving as ASB treasurer, ASB vice president and was a National Honors Society secretary and president and California Scholastic Federation treasurer. He was the varsity cross country captain, he received MVPs in both cross country and track and field and was an AP scholar with honors. He has also been involved with the Pacific Wildlife rescue organization, operation SURF, the Surfrider Foundation and the Lighthouse Foundation. Fleishman plans to study computer engineering and Cal Poly next year.
The highlight of the evening came next, with a rousing and poetic speech from Commencement Speaker Joseph DeLuca.
“From this day forward, we will no longer have to trudge the grounds of 1 High School Hill,” DeLuca said. “Well, (they) call it a hill, but we all know it’s a mountain. And as we gather here today at the base of this great mountain, a certain Rick Astley song keeps running in the back of my head — ‘never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down.’ For the past four years, this has been our promise to this school and to each other. We easily could have slept in every morning — God knows we needed it — but we dragged ourselves here. We could have blown off our globs of homework, and some of us did, but that just means that we really had to ace that test. We could have ditched practice to watch TV, but we strived to win at every opportunity. We could have let the opportunities presented to us here go to waste, but we didn’t — we saw high school as the mountain that it is and we set out to reach the summit.
“Atascadero High School knows people have different interests and you need peaks to conquer, so they offered us countless pathways throughout this vast mountain range. This school marinates it’s students in endless possibilities to succeed. Band geeks march on melodies, winning the Selma Band Competition, athletes ascend aerobic workouts and qualifying for CIF, theater kids scale scripts in preparation for the next Fringe Festival and aggies climb cages and cattle in King City...
“And while our work on this mountain has been remarkable, we learn a spectacular truth by reaching the summit, we have so much further to explore. The wilderness doesn’t end with one mountain, no, we have so many more peaks to reach, countless miles to wander. But never lose sight of the horizon from which you came.
“As Mr. Astley said it, never give it up.”
Before sending the graduates off to stand in line for their diplomas, Neely left them with his own message of love.
“Life is this amazing journey that will take you places you have yet to imagine,” he said. “You are ready to embark on the next phase of your journey. You have learned how to think, reflect and to work together. These are skills that are essential to practice throughout your life, no matter where your journey takes you. Undoubtedly you will experience failure. Although failure is definitely not the destination, it is an important part of your journey, for with failure, opportunities to learn arise. And I hope that you continue to learn for all of your life.
“During your time here at Atascadero High School, I hope you learned that you are responsible for your actions, and your inactions. Also, you are responsible for what you voice, whether it comes from your mouth, your keyboard or your cell phone. What you put out into this world does color this world and I hope you choose love as your color.”
Neely closed by leading seniors in one last combined shout of “go Hounds!”