'Destined for great things': Graduation day arrives for Oakdale seniors

·3 min read

May 27—Save for the babbles of a few babies, the crowd that filled Knott Arena at Mount St. Mary's University Friday morning fell silent when Francesca Hubbard approached the microphone to sing the national anthem.

Hands at her sides, her back straight as a rod, Hubbard sang the first three stanzas with perfect poise. She didn't even flinch when a wall of voices joined her for a brief moment at the start of the third to final line.

"O!" the Oakdale High School Class of 2022 shouted together — one last time before they graduated — as Hubbard sang, "O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave."

Three hundred and seventeen Oakdale Bears graduated on Friday.

The pamphlet Oakdale passed out to members of the audience before the ceremony began looked more like an invitation to a birthday party than the fancy, embossed leaflets other high schools distributed at their commencements earlier in the week.

Names of the graduates were spelled out inside round pieces of card stock cut into the shape of bear claws.

To hear speakers at the ceremony describe the graduates, the pamphlets celebrating their accomplishments were far from the only thing that made them special.

"Each and every one of us are destined for great things," said student speaker and graduate Hailey Hallenberg. "I cannot wait to see what our graduating class achieves."

The Class of 2022 included accomplished athletes, musicians, artists, scholars and "just genuinely good people," said Samuel Starrs, the ceremony's second student speaker.

He recalled how he felt four years ago, when he boarded the school bus on the first day of freshman year. He had been more nervous than he'd like to admit.

He may have changed quite a bit over the years, but deep down, he said, he's still that scared freshman. He's afraid to graduate, move to a new place and make new friends. He's scared to leave his parents, too.

"And I'm gonna avoid looking at my mom here because I know she's crying, and I can't afford to get emotional right now," he said, putting a hand up to block where she was sitting. "Sorry, Mom."

Unlike Starrs, Lisa Smith wasn't able to avoid getting teary eyed when she told her students how humbled and honored she felt to have been their principal.

Her pride in the graduates was obvious as she addressed their families on Friday.

She bragged on Catherine Brennan before she approached the stage to perform an original song, telling the audience about how she had sung the national anthem during an event this year without any advance warning.

When Brennan started singing, the room fell silent, just as it had during Hubbard's performance.

"It's bittersweet to say goodbye to those we've loved for our whole lives," Brennan sang, "but memories won't fade as we go."

Families exploded into a standing ovation when she finished.

Smith stepped back to the microphone, a huge smile on her face.

"I told you she was awesome," she said.

Recently, as she reflected over the past few years, Smith said she felt a little bad that she hadn't done more for this year's senior class.

She hadn't lined streets in their communities with signs, spelling out their names. She hadn't made Class of 2022 face masks.

"But I didn't need to," she said, her voice catching slightly. "Because we had the gift of time together."

As her speech concluded, she told the graduates to have confidence in who they were, what they believed and what they would accomplish. She also quoted television character Ted Lasso: "I believe in hope. I believe in believe."

"I hope and believe that your future is bright, and that you will write fantastic stories," she said. "I also believe that you are about to graduate. Congratulations, Oakdale High School Class of 2022 —"

Smith had more to say, but her amplified voice was drowned out by screams and applause from the audience.

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier