Southland seniors reflect on events of past year

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2002

Southland comes first this spring.

Commencement exercises for the Southland class of 2002 are Sunday afternoon.

Then comes Grand Meadow and Lyle on Friday, May 31, followed by LeRoy-Ostrander on Sunday, June 2.

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Other graduating classes throughout the greater Mower County area will also graduate senior classes as the month of May becomes June.

The rite of spring is a family milestone that lasts for all time. Try duplicating the emotions of high school graduation elsewhere in life and it is impossible.

After all, it took 13 years and -- who knows? -- maybe some blood, lots of sweat and, of course, tears to get to this point. Not to mention hard work, luck and family support as well as divine intervention.

Sixty-two Southland seniors will receive diplomas Sunday afternoon.

Jared Gilles, son of Bob and Dawn Gilles, Sarah Thome, daughter of Gary and Jane Thome, Jenny Wilson, daughter of Dan and Marie Wilson, Adam Chapek, son of Rod and Diane Chapek, and Aaron Jax, son of Roger and Cindy Jax, are among the 2002 Southland graduating class.

All five students attended kindergarten through 12th grade classes in the district.

This week, they posed for the informal senior picture, attended the

awards assembly and went through the paces of commencement rehearsal under the direction of principal Larry Croker.

In the back of Jax's mind, he remembers Mrs. Voight, a favorite third grade teacher at Southland Elementary School, Rose Creek.

Scott Kaplan, a popular fifth grade teacher at the elementary school, is another favorite of the graduates.

Mention the number of early deaths suffered by so many Southland students and the graduates turn immediately serious.

Thome wrote the senior class motto, which takes on a deeper meaning, when the tragic deaths of Southland students are recalled. "You only live once, but if you live right, once is enough," are the words to guide the graduates.

Three of the five students interviewed will attend Winona State university (Gilles, Wilson and Chapek). Thome will attend the University of Minnesota-Moorhead and Jax will attend the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. For the second consecutive year, WSU will attract more Southland graduates than any other incitation of higher learning, according to the five graduates.

The class of 2002 suffered, like all of America suffered, through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

"A teacher came around and told us to turn on the news station on TV," said Jax.

"We were in class and it was early in the morning. We just watched it for the whole day."

The prevailing emotion, according to Gilles, was disbelief.

"We were in shock," said Gilles.

What lesson was to be learned from 9-11?

Thome said, "I think it proved that we aren't the most powerful nation and that we have to respect other nations."

Jax said replacing President Clinton with President Bush was a good thing for the nation. "Not that Clinton was a bad president, he was just a bad person," said Jax.

The five seniors predict that Southland class of 2002 will be remembered for the many high academic achievers, according to Wilson.

What thoughts go through their minds as the moment approaches on Sunday afternoon?

"I'm excited to go out and meet new people," said Thome. "I'm more scared than I am sad about the though of going out and being on my own."

Not only will 62 seniors say "Goodbye" to Southland Public Schools, so will long-time principal Larry Croker, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

Croker stories are many, so loved and respected was the educator for over three decades.

Chapek brought smiles to everyone's faces as he recalled the day the principal played hockey down a corridor kicking an empty soda can until he came to a trash can.

What advice do they have for undergraduates? "Work hard … have fun" and "remember it goes fast," the students said.

The 29th annual Southland High school commencement begins 2 p.m. Sunday in the high school gymnasium.