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More than a matter of words: Seniors prepare to speak at commencement

Seniors Joe Zak, Shae Archambault, James Claflin and Hayden Schutt pose on the bridge in Hastings High School. The students have been practicing everyday after school to prepare their commencement speeches for their graduation ceremony on June 8. Cate Zenzen / RiverTown Multimedia

Four students from the Hastings class of 2018 are preparing to speak in front of family, friends, and their 300-plus classmates at their graduation ceremony in Todd Field.

Shae Archambault, James Claflin, Hayden Schutt and Joe Zak have been practicing every day after school with Darlene Olson to perfect their speeches.

Olson, a retired teacher who has been working with Hastings commencement speakers for years, has been giving them guidance as they work on memorization, oral interpretation and microphone work.

To be given this opportunity, interested seniors had to audition, presenting their written speeches to a panel of student and faculty judges.

This process selected four speakers, chosen not for gender or academic standing but based solely off of audience appeal, content delivery and organization of the speech.

Whether it was encouragement from a teacher, a dream since freshman year or a desire to represent their class, each student felt their own calling to be a commencement speaker.

At the graduation of the class of 2017, Zak was an usher for the ceremony and felt the power commencement speeches can have not only on the students graduating, but other audience members as well.

"Obviously I wasn't a graduate, but I still felt like the speaker was kind of speaking at me, cuz I was sitting, you know, three feet away from people who were actually graduating," said Zak.

For Schutt, it was a matter of individualism and representation.

"I just have a very unique experience here at HHS and I know a lot of people have so I wanted to try to capture as many opinions and ideas of how people really saw HHS."

Archambault believes that with four speakers, everyone in the class can be proud of having at least one of their friends at the podium, representing their experience of High School.

As the last class with students to have been born in the 1900s, Claflin said he recognizes the unique resilience of his classmates through the cultural and political climate changes they have gone through.

Claflin and Olson agreed that the speeches this year reflect that the world is different, "and we are going to have to approach it differently and change it," said Claflin.

Through the use of metaphors, inside jokes and encouragement, the students hope that each of their speeches will strike classmates' heart strings.

"I think a lot of the nervousness will come from the fact that I'm actually graduating," Archambault said.

With life after high school coming up quickly, the students are reflective of the strong relational bonds they have built within the halls of Hastings High School. To be missed the most will be the unique personalities of their classmates, the mentorship of their teachers and the atmosphere of the classrooms at HHS.

The past four years have been a time of growth and maturity and each student said he or she is excited to be a part of the ceremony that will wrap it all up. Despite the pressure, Schutt hopes for a full audience at graduation.

He said, "We would love to have everybody in the community come and support and see our class off."

If you go….

Who: Hastings High School Class of 2018

What: Commencement

When: 7-9:30 p.m. June 8

Where: Todd Field, 101 10th St. W., Hastings