COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Graduates of Three Rivers High School’s Class of 2022 toss their caps in the air at the end of Thursday’s commencement ceremony.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Three Rivers High School Senior Emily Avery gives her student address during Thursday’s Three Rivers High School commencement ceremony.

'Your story is just beginning': TRHS graduates Class of 2022

THREE RIVERS — Graduation caps were tossed into the rafters at Three Rivers High School Thursday, as the school graduated 139 students of its Class of 2022 during their annual commencement ceremony.

This year’s ceremony was the first one held inside the TRHS gymnasium since 2019, as last year’s ceremony was held at Armstrong Field. It was a normal graduation scene for the school, celebrating a class that had a couple of significantly abnormal years in their school careers.

Of the 139 graduating seniors at TRHS, 26 graduated with honors and 36 graduated with highest honors.

In his opening welcome to the class, Class President Chase Evans complimented the students on how far they have come since their freshman year.

“Since our freshman year, we have grown into beautiful individuals,” Evans said. “We wouldn’t have grown into the individuals we are today without some help. We have all been blessed with a gift, a gift that’s affected every aspect of our lives. That gift, of course, is each other. We’ll all look back at our high school experience and the wonderful memories of people sitting here together.”

Evans also expressed gratitude to his classmates for how they helped out his family when his mother suffered a serious injury while on vacation about two months ago, raising money for medical needs.

“You were there for me just as you would the person sitting to your left or your right,” Evans said. “When I look out in the crowd, I don’t see classmates, I see family.”

In her student address to the class, Emily Avery said she was thankful for the people she’s learned from at TRHS, as well as recalled the times she and her classmates shared.

“We were growing, learning and making friends along the way. We made some great memories together,” Avery said. “It’s bittersweet to leave a place like this behind. High school is a mere stepping stone to a young adult life, but I’ve grown such a love for it it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s made me the person I am today.”

Avery mentioned in her address the multiple misfortunes that have occurred with their class in the last two years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the EEE virus, online schooling, and the loss of one of their fellow classmates, Cheyenne Bixler, who passed away in a Fabius Township house fire in January 2020. The Class of 2022’s class colors were purple and turquoise to celebrate Bixler’s memory, and a small tree that sat on stage during the ceremony was later announced to be gifted to the surviving members of the Bixler family to plant in her memory.

Avery said their class missed out on a lot during their high school years, but through it all grew closer to each other.

“We Facetimed classmates to better understand material, we put lawn chairs in the high school parking lot to spend time with each other, we grew closer because of these challenges,” Avery said. “We’ve had our tenacity tested so many times, and that’s why I’m confident our class will be successful. … In a world that’s had so much isolation, division and violence, I’m glad our little corner of Michigan and the Class of 2022 was able to show love.”

Connor Quake’s address to the senior class discussed success and finding a purpose in life, noting that graduating high school is a big accomplishment for everybody in their class.

“If you think for a second you haven’t accomplished anything in life, take one second to take a look at yourself. We’re graduating. That in itself is an accomplishment of its own,” Quake said. “Be proud of who you are and how far you’ve come. Enjoy the work you put in as much as the results you get, because without that hard work, none of us would be right here.”

Following the student addresses, Class Vice President Caleigh Barth and Class Treasurer Rylie Glass took a few minutes to thank and appreciate parents, staff and teachers for all the support they have given every student in the class in the last four years.

After the graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, another four-legged graduate got their turn to walk across – Tanner, the school’s therapy dog, who recently passed a certification test from Therapy Dog International and “graduated” to what Assistant Principal Nick VanDenBrink said was “a full-time, long-term position” at TRHS. Tanner was given a Country Butcher brand Beef Dino bone on stage as a graduation gift.

In her farewell to the graduates, Principal Carrie Balk compared life to “a book with the end ripped out.” She said the class was in its early chapters in freshman year, and then they were “blindsided” by the following chapters.

“By fall of your sophomore years, we were swatting mosquitos and dealing with EEE. EEE referring to the mosquito-borne virus, and not some of your report card grades that semester,” Balk said. “By spring, COVID struck. We shut down quickly and our sense of normalcy was lost through the remaining months of your sophomore year, all of your junior year, and arguably much of this year in a subtle and less obvious way.”

However, what she’ll most remember about the class is their kindness and consideration.

“You, as a collective whole, will be remembered as one of the kindest, most considerate groups of graduates to ever walk across this stage,” Balk said to applause, telling stories of some of the students’ accomplishments, quirks and successes. She ended with some words of advice to the class.

“Class of 2022, you’ve got a great start to your story. Some of you will leave here tonight and write chapter after chapter of the rest of your story without missing a beat. For others, it’ll take time, persistence, and perhaps a few re-dos. That’s okay,” Balk said. “If you’re not ready to write your book, write a chapter. If you can’t write a chapter, write a page, a sentence or a single word. For it is from a single word that books are made. Your story is just beginning.”

Superintendent Nikki Nash, calling back to her roots as an elementary teacher, also had a farewell address, reading the book “The World Needs More Purple People” to the class, which has a message of people embracing what makes them special while finding common ground with those around them.

Just before the tassels were turned, the class took time to honor Language Arts teacher Lisa Linn, who will be retiring at the end of the school year. The class gifted her a graduation cap with Jane Eyre quotes and a bouquet of flowers, and asked her to turn the tassels with them as they graduated.

The senior class song was “Where’d All The Time Go” by Dr. Dog, the senior class flower was the Calla Lilly, which were given to students as they walked across the stage to get their diplomas, and the senior class motto was, “Cherish yesterday, live for today, and reach for tomorrow.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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