The 125th commencement ceremony of Fredericktown High School saw 126 students graduate, Friday.
FHS Principal Craig Gibbs was the master of ceremonies for his final time as he is leaving the district at the end of this school year. Junior Ava Penuel, the 2023-2024 student body president-elect, led the capacity crowd in the pledge of allegiance.
Gibbs then stepped to the microphone and welcomed everyone. He announced the entrance of the 126 members of the senior class. The seniors entered the gym in pairs and proceeded to their seats as the FHS Band played under the direction of Shelby Leo.
"As you may notice, there is an empty chair within the class of 2023," Gibbs said. "Would everyone please join me in a moment of silence to remember a classmate, Matty Pickert."
Gibbs introduced the Fredericktown R-I Board of Education, the high school faculty and staff in attendance, and all R-I staff members at the ceremony. Next, he recognized the parents of the graduating seniors, as well as any FHS alumni in attendance.
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The band then played some special music for the commencement.
Gibbs asked four FHS seniors—Conner Buntion (Navy), Eli England (Army National Guard), Ania McLaughlin (Navy), and Mikaela Thompson (Army National Guard)--who had enlisted in the military to stand.
Next, Gibbs announced Elizabeth Crouch and Leah Rehkop completed all the necessary requirements to graduate with an honors diploma. Crouch also completed the Mineral Area College 42 hour block.
Five students, Sydney Bell, McCoy Clark, Lydia Mell, Rylie Rehkop, and Kindal Neel, were asked to stand. These five students completed all the necessary requirements and have earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Mineral Area College.
Gibbs then recognized the seniors who received scholarship funds, and the students in the top ten percent of the class of 2023.
The two speakers were Salutatorian Elizabeth Crouch and Valedictorian Lydia Mell.
Crouch began her speech by welcoming everyone to the commencement.
"It is time to celebrate that we are finally graduating," Crouch said. "I don't think I have yet processed that statement until this moment."
Crouch said she has pictured standing in this position, giving this speech, for all four years of high school.
"I set a goal my freshmen year to graduate at the top of my class, and everything I did, every class I took, every hour I spent studying was dedicated to meeting this goal," Crouch said. "A part of me is a little embarrassed because of how much I stressed about accomplishing this achievement."
Crouch said she spent countless hours going over her schedule and even more time talking about how highly-weighted each class was.
"Nevertheless, it feels great to reach a goal and persevere through numerous obstacles that I and our class have faced," Crouch said. "But I have to admit, I did not achieve this on my own."
Crouch thanked her mother first, then the rest of her family, her teachers and everyone at the Fredericktown School District, and above all, God.
Crouch said she has been very excited to graduate high school, but she never thought those feelings would change. She said, saying goodbye to this school, to her classmates, and some of her best friends, gives her a giant wave of emotions that are not so glamourous.
"As a naïve middle and high school student I always dismissed teachers when they started talking about 'the real world,'" Crouch said. "I thought they were crazy for thinking that our generation was not already a part of a real world, because from what I have experienced and what I know about what others my age have had to deal with, everything seemed pretty real to me."
Crouch said, she now regrets not listening to them and is now realizing everything will change.
"Our independence will rapidly increase and the support from our teachers and parents that we have always known will diminish," Crouch said. "However I want to leave the class of 2023 with some encouragement to take life by storm and never quit."
Crouch said, its not a matter or "if" but "when" things get hard, and it is important to remember to never give up.
"Life is difficult, no one is perfect, and mistakes will be made," Crouch said. "That is why it is important to take on the responsibilities for failures and learn from those mistakes in every way possible. There is no doubt in my mind that our class is filled with young men and women who will find success in their future."
Crouch welcomed Mell to the stage saying, "I'm honored to call the class of 2023 Valedictorian, Lydia Mell, one of my best friends."
When Mell approached the podium she thanked Crouch and said, "I am honored to be standing up here with one of my best friends."
"I never thought for a second that I would be standing up here one day, and I really never knew that it would come this quick, but I guess, here I am," Mell said. "It is crazy to think about how it seems like yesterday, that we were roaming the halls as freshmen and now we are all graduating and taking the next step in our lives."
Mell thanked everyone for coming to support the class of 2023 and said she hopes to provide some sort of inspiration for the future.
"As you all know, our class has endured many struggles throughout high school," Mell said. "We started out being cut short of our freshman year. We were not able to finish our first full year of high school and many of us were not able to finish our spring sport. Even though it was a nice break, we will never be able to get that time of high school back."
Mell said, it has been a wild ride, but she is thankful for the opportunities and memories the Fredericktown R-I School District has provided them.
Mell took a moment to thank God, family, friends, teachers, coaches and everyone who helped get her to this day.
"You all might be surprised, but we actually did learn something while we were here for four years," Mell said. "We learned to never talk to Gibbs on a bad day, don't start a conversation with Carver if you are in a hurry, and I'm pretty sure each one of us can set up a paper in MLA format in our sleep. Thanks Mrs. Cook. Oh and after six years of saying we are going to have a party for my birthday, Mr. Daniels had learned and remembered my name and my birthday by the end of the year. So we are making progress, I promise."
Mell said, she feels like during their time in high school, her class has had to learn how to overcome challenges and that hard work pays off.
"During our first and second years of high school everything changed," Mell said. "Some pandemic came around and caused us to lose the last bit of our freshmen year, and then we came back for sophomore year, everything that we once knew had changed. During this confusing time, we all had to learn how to do things the 'new' way."
Mell said she is thankful that during adversity her class stood strong, supported each other and pushed themselves beyond limits.
"We have learned to persevere through challenges that come our way and work hard no matter what," Mell said. "Our class might be out of control and crazy sometimes with the random shouting, rooster noises, and constant disruptions, but one thing I will say, we all work extremely hard."
Mell encouraged her classmates to remember to strive to be the best version of themselves no matter what.
"This is a somewhat bittersweet moment," Mell said. "Even though we all have been very anxiously awaiting for this ceremony, this is the last time we will ever be in this school together, and before you know it, we will be old and won't even remember the majority of our classmates' names. Thank goodness for yearbooks. But I am honored to be part of this class, to be standing up here today, and to say goodbye to you all one last time."
After the speakers, the students’ names were announced by Assistant Principal Derrick Eaves and one by one were presented their diplomas by R-I Board President Richard Allgier.
Once the last students received their diplomas, moved their tassels over and returned to their seats, Gibbs presented the graduating class of 2023 to the crowd and the traditional tossing of the caps toward the gym ceiling ended the festivities.
The Fredericktown High School Class of 2023 includes: Layne Marie Adams, Michael David Akins Jr., Eli James Allgier, Anna Mae Amelunke, Harold Eli Aslinger, Haven Gregory Bain, Sydney Rose Bell, Brooke Ann Berry, Domanick Jakob Lee Biesemeyer, Carter Brady Bittle, Terry James Bowling, Mea Nicole Brown, Nathan Cole Buchanan, Connor Wayne Buntion, Dane Robert Butler, McCoy Ryan Clark, Samuel Greyson Coleman, Jordan Scott Collier, Lakota Scott Cowling, Elizabeth Mae Crouch, James Dean Curry, Krystian Allen Dennison, Jess Daniel DeSanto, Ashton Wayne Dorsey, Christopher James Dowd, Madalyn Christine Dowd, Wesley Cortland DuLaney, Cooper Peyton Durr, Eli Wyatt England, Landon Kylar Firebaugh, Miguel Alejandro Flores, Landon Joshua Foss, Riley Joseph Fraire, Malachi Lee Francis, Patience Breanne Garland, Ryleigh Jo Gresham, Paige Alexa Hacker, Keira Grace Haferkamp, Riley Thomas Harper, Payton Nicole Heady, Ryan Joseph Heaps, Mark Murai Heine, Kaidyn Eric Hersey, Koda Lee Hodge, Madison Lee Holland, Mason Elizabeth Holland, Daemeon Tyler Hubbs, Caleb Jordan Jenkerson, Clara Madison Jenkins, Kenneth Michael Johnson, Erika Faith Jordan, Brock Wade Kelley, Faith Ann Hope Kinkead, Jessica Nicole Lay, Ashton Ray Leonard, Kiera Marie Lett, Cole Thomas Lewis, Eduardo Lopez, Michelle Guadalupe Castro Lopez, Triston Blake Lunsford, Kaitlyn Christina Maas, Kylee Ann Maddox, Garrett Charley Marler, Miguel Molina Martinez, Lane Stephen Mathes, Laura LeeAnne Mayhew, Ania Rae McLaughlin, Lydia Marie Mell, Shane Jeffrey Miller, William Aidan Morgan, Matthew Philip Morris, Brendan Eugene Mueller, Gavin Edward Mullins, Autumn DeLane Musket, Kindal Nicole Neel, Ryan Linley Nelson, Brianna Michelle Noble, Deagen Michael O'Brien, Jaysa McKenna Parsley, Isaac Michael Pirtle, Dylan Scott Porter, Austin Christopher Pullen, Madalyn Elizabeth Raith, Leah Evaughn Rehkop, Linley Grace Rehkop, Rylie Jane Rehkop, Alanea Lynn Reynolds, Christian Alexander Roark, Brianna Leigh Robinson, Kimberly Ann Rodriguez, Lorelei Faye Sample, Kaitlynn Cheyenne Sandman, Jose` Marie Siebert, Zoe Mary Elizabeth Sikes, Timothy Isaac Smallen, Isaac Layne Smith, Kali Lynn Smith, Emmett Carlisle Smith-Jarvis, Jesse Edward Stacy, Hunter Levi Stafford, Andrew Lee Starkey, Gavin E. Lee Stevens, Lillian Nicole Stevens, Nolan Jesse Sullivan, Sera Kay Tarkington, Mikaela Denyce Thompson, Lorelei Parris Tinnin-Mangold, Julie Marie Turnbough, Justin Tyler Waggoner, Grant Isaac Wagner, Kaleb Shane Walker, Garrett Michael Ward, Robert Owen Warner, Caleb Ronald Weber, Dakota Stanley Weber, Michael Waylon Weekley, Damien James Weller-Volz, Emma Malynn Wengler, Blue Berry Williams, Nathen Mikael Wilson, Dalton Craig Winick, Josia Tre` Winston, William River Monroe Wisely, Kaiden Lucas Wojtczuk, Keiden Oliver Wright, and John Isaac Yount.