THREE OAKS — The River Valley High School Class of 2019 was celebrated as a small group with big hearts and a strong sense of loyalty to their “herd” during a Friday, June 7, Commencement Ceremony.
Principal Patrick Breen, who delivered the ceremony’s Keynote Address, said he came to River Valley six years ago when this year’s graduating class was in seventh grade.
“This particular class, although small (30 diplomas were handed out to graduating seniors in the Jerry Schaffer Gym), has accomplished some big things,” he said, later noting, “You may be a small class but you are a mighty class. You have led by example and been a joy to watch grow.”
In an especially emotional moment during the ceremony, 2002 River Valley graduate Zack East accepted an honorary diploma in honor of David Hicks, his brother and a member of the Class of 2019, who lost a battle with a rare form of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma on Feb. 10, 2017.
A chair among the graduates was reserved for Hicks, with his photo placed there. East carried that picture with him as he stood in the line of seniors and ascended the Commencement ceremony main stage to embrace Board of Education members and district officials (East also was recognized as an RV Alumni of Distinction during the ceremony, see below in this article for more).
Jessie Rieth, who delivered the ceremony’s Salutatory Address, recalled legacy of David Hicks.
“Two years ago this herd lost a very valuable Mustang. The fact that he only had one leg and was battling cancer did not stop him from looking out for his herd, ever.”
“David didn’t find looking around, to those beside him, to be a distraction. This is what a Mustang does. And we must do the same, both for ourselves and for our herd.”
To honor the memory of his brother, East (along with family and friends) worked with the Berrien Community Foundation to form the David A. Hicks Scholarship for the Arts, which supports Berrien County students who wish to pursue a career in the visual, performing or graphic arts. For more, go to www.davidhicksscholarship.com or www.berriencommunity.org.
Senior Class President Delayna Morrow thanked the teachers for guidance and knowledge, her friends and the entire Class of 2019 for “all the laughs and memories that have been made,” along with her family.
“Without your endless love and support I do not know how I would have gotten to this point today.”
Morrow explaibed her “two completely different answers” to the question “Are you excited to graduate?”
“I used to answer that questions with a ‘No, I am not excited to graduate.’ Graduation symbolizes the end of a person’s high school career ... No longer will we be able to play in the gym or under the lights of the football field ... our last spirit weeks and high school dances have come and gone.”
But Morrow said she then realized that this is not supposed to be a sad time because “Even though those events have come and gone, the memories and friendships made will last a lifetime. They won’t be forgotten.
“We may only be known as the Class of 2019 to everyone else, but to each other, we are family.”
Because of this, Morrow said, “I am excited to graduate.”
“As we move forward with life’s journey, I want to challenge the Class of 2019 to this: Remember that even though we are all going our separate ways, we will continue to keep each other close in memories and take on those new adventures and relationships with open minds and open hearts.”
In his Valedictory Address (which opened with the statement “And just like that, it’s over”), Josh Clark said he is extremely competitive and expects nothing less than to always be the best, so when he falls short he feels like he loses meaning or signifigance.
“If I really, truly want to make a difference in this world, the only thing I have to do is allow God to use me on his terms, not mine.”
He said most of God’s work isn’t carried out by preachers or people of the cloth, but by normal people “trusting in his perfect plan.”
“Joseph, for example, gave us one of the most inspiring stores of faith and forgiveness after being sold into slavery by his family, simply by trusting in God, and excelling at the task at hand.”
Clark said even Jesus was the son of a carpenter who went about his business for 30 years before saving countless people and performing countless miracles simply by trusting in God to put him in the right place at the right time.
“As we leave tonight for college, careers, or whatever may be ahead, I want to leave you with one thought. It doesn’t matter where you are, who you are, what you’ve done, or what you can do, God will use you to change the world, but only if you let him.”
Rieth began the Salutatory Address by saying she was extremely distracted by her tassel — and it wasn’t the first time.
“I must confess that throughout my years of watching graduation speeches I did just that — watched, not listened. I would notice the tassel annoyingly sweeping in front and behind the speaker’s face. It is for this reason, I suppose, that I remember very little of past speeches, even my own brother’s.”
She noted that while this may seem weird, she would bet everyone in attendance has done this more often than they think, maybe not with tassels, but with other things that block your line of sight, annoy you, or just get in the way of life.
Rieth asked her classmates to ponder whether distractions are an integral part of graduation and other “main events” in life.
“We place blinders on horses to eliminate their distractions ... When horses wear blinders their sight is limited, seeing only what is right in front of them ... They are ridden by someone who guides them, trains them, and forces them to go one way or another ... Horses have little freedom.”
“But, lucky for us we are Mustangs, and Mustangs are wild. They aren’t afraid to be distracted. In fact, it’s their nature to be alert, observant and expectant — distracted.”
“As graduating Mustangs we have no boundaries, we have no bridles, no rider, no fences, and most importantly, no blinders.”
She urged her classmates to resist the urge to only look forward, to only care about what is to come.
“Don’t get too caught up in looking forward that you forget to look around.”
Breen opened the ceremony’s Keynote Address by recognizing River Valley employees.
“Thank you for investing in these young people for the past 13 years,” he said.
Breen noted that 20 percent of this year’s seniors have GPAs of 3.5 or higher; 46 percent have taken advanced courses for college credit; 57 percent have taken CTE classes; and over $622,000 in scholarships were awarded a week before graduation.
He said Mustang athletic teams have earned district championships (including recent ones for the baseball and softball teams); victories over rival schools, and state-qualifying finishes.
Breen said the class was good at showing people that they care, and he issued this final challenge to them: “In everything you do, be a servant. Chasing the almighty dollar will only get you so far. Serving the people in your life will bring you joy no matter what the circumstance.”
Honored as 2019 Scholar Athletes were Jessie Rieth and Josh Clark (also recognized as Class of 2019 Salutatorian and Valedictorian respectively).
The School Service Award went to for spending “countless hours with overtime events after football games, band camp, band performances, drama club practices, drama shows, helping as a lunch buddy at Three Oaks Elementary, coordinating our fourth- and fifth-grade exercise club, working as a youth director at her church, and foreign exchange student director” was presented to Laurie Volstorf by Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Jim Wisely.
Superintendent William Kearney announced four Alumni of Distinction Awards to River Valley graduates who have excelled in their profession or have made significant contributions to their community.
• Kevin Harrington (Class of 1983). Earned his is Photographic Craftsman degree from the Professi ssional Photographers of America and was named one of the top 10 “Young Guns” of senior photography by Senior Photographers; has taught digital photography at local local school diststricts; Serves as a board member for the Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce, has been involved with the Three Oaks Business Association and Junior Achievement, and volunteers his services at local animal shelters; Has established and grown his business in his hometown, serves families and schools throughout the area, many of which are second generation customers.
• Ann Good-Hilbert (Class of 1986). Served as valedictorian of her graduating class, attended Michigan State where she received a degree in politica science and launched a successful career in state government; Began working for the Treasury Department in 2002, and served as the Director of the Office of Collections (in charge of collection of delinquent taxes and other state agency debts, responsible for over 200 staff members, with annual collection revenues of over $450 million); She was named Deputy Treasurer for Financial and Administrative Services in 2017 and is responsible for the Offices of Accounting Services, Collections, Departmental Services, Financial Services and Privacy and Security.
• Jason Honneycutt (Class of 1994). Graduated from Grand Valley State University in 1998 with a degree in film. During college he worked for a PBS affiliate filming Grand Rapids Griffins games, and an ABC affiliate working on the morning news, filming NBA and NFL games, and directing and shooting music videos in the Grand Rapids area. He moved to Los Angeles in 2000 where he has directed and edited project cts for DreamWorks, Universal Republic, AT&T, Sony Music, Disney, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and others. He is the winner of six Promax Gold Awards, and works ks as part of the On-Air Promotions team at
FX Network. Honeycutt has created a slate of short films, with his first being “Returning Home” Other films have included “Intersection” and “Supermom,” with each earning awards at various film festivals.
• Zack East (Class of 2002). Graduated from Ferris State University with a degree in Communications. During college he was a Southwest Michigan correspondent for the Sunday Papers Radio Show on WGN Radio in Chicago. Began managing a mobile DJ service through WSJM, and created the group’s first interactive
digital media business operations and training system. In 2007, East became one of the youngest program directors for ROCK 107 WIRX. He created the Radio Super Saver program operation in 2009, and became a morning show host on 98.3 The Coast. He was lead in the development of MoodyontheMarket.com, and project lead
for the build-out of the Town Crier Wire app. He currently serves as the regional digital and technical manager of Mid-West Family Broadcasting in Benton Harbor. He has devoted much time to volunteer work through Berrien County, serves as a board member for United Way of Southwest Michigan, and has served as chairman or co-chairman for a number of United Way campaigns.
Members of the River Valley High School Class of 2019 are (* indicates Honor Cord, ** Salutatorian, *** Valedictorian): Faith Brant, Madison Brewster, Jared Brown*, Joshua Clark***, Michael DeRossi, Chase Ehlert*, Griffin Freehling*, Jacob Good*, Matthew Hauch, Tiffany Hyatt*, Sidney Jewell, Justin Jirtle, Paul Kacmar, Kira Kelley, Thomas Krieger*, Jacob Lohraff, Julia Maldonado, Delayna Morrow*, Roshell Nesbitt, Dalton Noftsger*, Hailey Pulaski, Steve Reed, Jessie Rieth**, Jaylen Robbins, Joseph Schmidt*, Coleman Schroeder, Dayna Schumm*, Cameron Seifert, Mikayla Smith, Rylie Swain, Madison Vollman* and Jarod Volstorf*.