Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct guest speaker Lincoln Moore’s job.
Success can be measured amid the smiles, tears and hugs of 45 Whittier High School students who graduated in the auditorium of Smith-Cotton Junior High School Friday evening.
Students and staff alike echoed the sentiment before, during and after graduation that Whittier High School is like family.
“This is a great group,” Whittier High Assistant Director B.J. Curry said before the ceremony began. “Every year is a good group for us, and every group is special in their own way. It’s just nice to see the kids putting out the effort to hopefully change the rest of their lives.”
Curry mentioned the evening’s keynote speaker Lincoln Moore, who is a 2005 graduate of Whittier.
“Lincoln came to Whittier, obviously in trouble, with school not as important as it needed to be,” Curry noted. “He really bought into the Whittier challenge and the Whittier style. He’s a great young man now.”
Moore, who lives in Sedalia, now works for 8760 Service Group.
Graduate Gavin McCue, who was graduating a year early, said he is thankful for the opportunity to graduate.
“Whittier School has treated us like family since day one,” he said. “I had a good time, there was never a dull moment with anyone. They made it fun and they made it worthwhile. Something the regular schools don’t do.”
McCue said he plans to go to welding school in Nevada, Missouri. During graduation McCue received a certificate of participation from the State Fair Community College Career and Technology Center program.
Crystal Craig noted that she believed graduation wouldn’t be possible if she hadn’t began attending Whittier.
“If I was at Smith-Cotton, I wouldn’t have graduated this early,” she said. “I’m not even sure if I’d be in school right now. I am a young mom, and Whittier has went above and beyond to help me succeed.
“They are, like Gavin said, family,” she added. “They are so helpful — I went from being a straight F student at Smith-Cotton to a straight A, straight A-B-honor roll for the first time.”
She added that two of her favorite teachers are social studies teacher Kelly Birdsong and English teacher Renee Pripusich.
“They have a select few teachers who teach so many subjects,” Craig said. “I don’t see how the teachers do it, they have to be very strong.”
Craig added that she plans to go into the criminal justice field after graduation. During graduation Craig was one of five students who received a recognition award from SFCC for fully completing the College Connections Program. The recognition is for students who have completed a SFCC college application and were accepted, who are ready to proceed with enrollment or who have completed a semester of college.
During his address to the graduates, speaker Moore congratulated the students and told them there are “life lessons” to be learned such as building character and respect. He too spoke about the Whittier family.
“Whittier holds a special place in my heart because it’s the only reason I graduated,” he noted. “The opportunities offered at Whittier aren’t available anywhere else.”
He added that before attending Whittier he wasn’t making good decisions and his focus was on friends not academics.
“The reason I wanted to attend Whittier was because I was always told a high school diploma was important,” Moore said. “I knew I had a lot of catching up to receive one. So I became a gnat in Mr. Birdsong’s ear, I bugged him and bugged him, and I’m so glad he let me in.”
He added that it was only after he began attending Whittier he understood why a high school diploma was important.
“Whittier is a testament to the commitment of the teachers of the school district to see average kids like me graduate and become successful,” he said. “The small class setting and the one-on-one attention helped me more than anyone will ever know.
“Book learning wasn’t the only thing they taught me,” he added. “The teachers taught me life lessons that I still use today. They taught me that character and respect are a very important part of life and they modeled it everyday. They taught me I was part of a family, the Whittier family, and that I would always be part of that family.”
He spoke to the graduates about life after high school and gave them advice about finding a career they liked and enjoyed.
“Surround yourself with people who want to see you achieve your goals,” he added.
Moore also encouraged them to “stay focused.”
“The only thing holding you back from success is you,” he added. “As you leave here tonight, remember that you’ve been given a good foundation by the staff at Whittier. Now it’s up to you what you do with that.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.