Grand County High School senior Marika McRoye, right, marches past the class of 2015 to take her place on the bleachers at the school's graduation ceremony. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

The traditional commencement music “Pomp and Circumstance” began and the crowd rose, standing to watch as the Grand County High School (GCHS) class of 2015 walked toward the stage on Thursday, May 28.

The setting sun cast a soft glow on the young men and women in their red or white graduation garb. Cottonwood fluff drifted through the golden evening light like confetti.

The crowd of families, friends and supporters filled the grassy hill beside the high school. People of all ages and walks of life were gathered to witness the graduation ceremony. The students took their seats in front of the audience, next to the stage.

GCHS Student Body President Cora Johnston addressed the crowd first, speaking to the history and connections shared by her graduating class.

“We’ve been together since kindergarten,” Johnston said, later adding, “For a tourist town, we have a really close-knit community.”

She also remarked, “Look, we’re here, we finally made it!”

GCHS Principal Stephen Hren presented the 2015 Circle of Honor Award, which recognizes a community member or staff member who has dedicated exceptional service to the high school. This year, the award went to Chris Becker, whose involvement with GCHS goes back to the early ’90s. Among other accomplishments, he developed a popular jewelry and ceramics class, and a visual arts program, and he was the head track coach. Hren described him as “an educator who can reach and teach any student.”

Becker said that he modeled his classroom after nature, which is not orderly, yet “presents itself as one of the most fabulous works of art ever.”

“If I have one small piece of wisdom to pass on to you: do not ever stop learning,” Becker said. “They say that curiosity killed the cat; I say it gave it nine lives.”

GCHS senior Savannah Hurley gave the salutatory address, praising her classmates and their parents for overcoming challenges in life.

“We can face and accomplish hard things,” she said. “We have a lot to live up to, but we also have immeasurable potential.”

Hurley added, “We are bound together by our common beginning here, and separated by our individuality. Never stop believing you can aspire to great heights.”

Robin Willscheidt-Johnson began her valedictorian address by exclaiming, “College! I’m terrified.”

She reminisced about carefree younger years spent watching cartoons and drinking Capri Sun, and contrasted it with her present anxieties.

“Will I accidentally set my dorm room on fire?” she asked. “Will my roommate be the devil incarnate?”

But she also described an underlying satisfaction with the coming new chapter of life, describing her feelings as “excited, confident and elated.”

Willscheidt-Johnson also voiced confidence in the class of 2015. She acknowledged the many paths her classmates would take after that day, such as “college, the military, a mission or the workforce” and declared, “We’ll rock the adult world, even if it takes us a few tries to get it right.”

After the valedictorian address, a handful of students took the spotlight and performed an upbeat cover of the Boston song “Long Time,” featuring several seniors performing in graduation regalia. There were students on electric guitars, keyboards and percussion.

Graduating senior Kesley Backus provided the vocals, which included apropos lines such as, “It’s been such a long time, I think I should be going. And time doesn’t wait for me, it keeps on rolling.’”

Commencement speaker and longtime GCHS teacher Ryan Anderson was introduced by Senior Class President Koby Sobremesana. Anderson taught at GCHS for 20 years, retiring this year.

“He has a true passion for teaching and helping students grow,” Kobremesana said.

Anderson shared a memory of when the current high school was under construction, and some people said that the building couldn’t be done in the needed time frame. However, the school was ultimately completed on schedule.

“Never underestimate the potential of a dedicated, hardworking group of Americans to get the job done,” Anderson said.

He also stated his belief that parents and guardians are a child’s first teachers, and that the home is the first classroom.

“As educators, we build on that foundation,” he said. “Other than parenting, teaching is most challenging and fulfilling job I’ve ever done.”

He also reminisced about the many “vigorous and vibrant” class discussions, and reminded the graduating class of when they first began their high school years, and wrote letters to their “future selves,” the people they imagined they would be when they graduated high school. Anderson said he recently mailed the letters to their writers, so they could receive the message they wrote to themselves years earlier, now that the future had become the present.

“You’ve read some ‘rites of passage’ stories, perhaps written one yourself,” Anderson said. “You’re living one right now. When you pass through the G, you will be stepping into a new chapter of your life.”

“As is a story, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is. That’s what matters,” he said.

As the sun slipped away behind the western rim, a spotlight shone on the big red G up on the stage. Each graduating student was called individually to walk through the G and receive a high school diploma.

There were cheers and applause for every graduate, as he or she stepped into a wide-open future.

GCHS celebrates seniors’ achievements at graduation ceremony