By Marianne Mueller


ROCKFORD – Dressed in black gowns and personalized caps, 427 graduates of Harlem High School celebrated with a commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 28 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Harlem’s combined bands played as graduates were brought in by processional leaders.

Student photos flashed on an overhead screen reflecting on past memories.

Gabriela Ruiz, Jr. Class President, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Names of students who have plans to serve our country appeared on screen as our National Anthem played.

“Remember all of the good times you had at Harlem; These are the thoughts you will remember at the oddest times,” said Harlem Principal Terrell Yarbrough.

“You will have challenges. You are in a system that expects you to be great. I need to assure you it will be Ok. Develop a different approach. What you have accomplished and learned cannot be taken away.

“You are here; home of the Huskies and have behind you the excellence of 102 classes who came before. The challenges by your participation will make you do better in life.

“I was an inner city kid who graduated in 1972. I would never have gone this far if not for my grandmother, who was my lifeline. I will always be grateful and remember the courage it took.

“Remember the good and bad, it made you who you are. Remember those who have helped you; just as if I am sure my grandmother is looking out for me from heaven. Good luck on your journey.”

Principal Yarbrough recognized all staff members represented on the graduation stage.

Senior Class President Brock Ashford delivered a farewell address. Before speaking a moment of silence honored the life of classmate Brandon Mueller who passed away in 2015.

Ashford read from a letter written to the Class of 1913 to the Class of 2016.

“We are Harlem. We as students were sometimes praying to God that someone would let us out of class. Whether you were in marching band or got risqué at Homecoming or less risqué at Prom or were an athlete – we are Harlem.

“We have been in classrooms, have gossiped and have come out of it. We have worked hard, we have been Harlem, and we will be Harlem together. We may love the past four years or have hated them, we may lose or keep friends but no matter what we are Harlem.”

“We will be saying one last goodbye to familiar faces,” said Salutatorian Elizabeth Ann Koritz. “My high school is one that I will be grateful for forever. Thank you to the parents; without you our education would not be as helpful to us.

“You have always told us that graduation is the beginning of our time in the real world. I would like to share statistics. Regret equals never enough courage to follow dreams or aspirations. “Whatever it is you do best run with your talent and passion. Live truthfully and stay unique; just be you. Get out of your comfort zone, join clubs and live life with no regrets,” encouraged Koritz.

Valedictorian Michael Taylor Biggers delivered a message to remember.

“I would like to skip the clichés, which I had plenty of in this monologue. In earlier years I had teachers tell me that I was a poor student, had trouble learning and that I had a learning disability. Just three years ago nobody in this room thought I would be giving this speech today.

“Well over 100 students earned over 1 million dollars in scholarship money in this class. This speech is about all of you. In life there will always be people who don’t believe in you. We can all be extraordinary.

“People cannot keep you from your goals unless you let them. We are all underdogs. All of our accomplishments are the way we defy our naysayers. We can make it everywhere. To our future we say, ‘Bring it on,’ because we believe.”

Mrs. Heather Kelley sent an emotional message to students. “I have watched so many of you grow into fine young people. In my estimation today I have seen over 3,000 students graduate. “Today is different due to the emotions of being a parent whose son is among this graduating class. Embrace change; do something every day that scares you just a little. Turn your goals into dreams.

“You will experience joy, pain, failure and success. It is the courage to continue that counts. It is greater than anything anyone can tell you that you are supposed to do.

“Chose to use life in service to others; that is how you keep it, do it and grow it. My hope is that we have all played part in making this happen.”

Diplomas were awarded with Brennan Phelps being credited with having perfect attendance all four years and Dae Smith having perfect attendance this year.

After all names were read orange, black and silver balloons floated down from the ceiling followed by rounds of applause and congratulations to the Class of 2016!

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