HEBRON – Sue Walters handed out 20 diplomas Sunday afternoon. Only one graduate got a nice, long hug to go with it.
Walters, District 19's school board president, made an exception for her daughter, Jacqueline.
"It's special," the elder Walters said, after the ceremony, of sharing the moment with her youngest. Jacqueline will follow in her sibling's footsteps next year and attend the University of Illinois – where her sister graduated Saturday. Their brother, 20, is currently farming.
Students turned their gaze to the future while celebrating their last four years Sunday at Alden-Hebron High School's graduation ceremony. Family members, teachers and friends took to the school gym's bleachers and crowded rows of seats on the gym floor.
A pack of soon-to-be graduates took their spots – guys in black gowns; girls in green – to the left of the podium and a small table of administrators.
Speaking to the crowd, salutatorian Gabrielle Peterson said she tussled with what direction to go with her speech – funny or sentimental, advice for the future or talk about the past. She settled on recognizing the long journey ahead, and thanking and paying homage to those gathered.
"You being here, and your advice, has helped us become the people we are today and will be in the future," she said.
Valedictorian Jacqueline LeJeune similarly thanked teachers and others for their influence, but focused on the tight-knit feel of the graduating class and school at large. It's the answer she received when she asked classmates who'd come from larger schools what they saw as different about Alden-Hebron.
"At Hebron, everyone is close," LeJeune said she was told. "It is not so cliquey here, everyone knows who you are, and the teachers show personal interest in each student's success."
That sense of community is something Sue Walters has experienced through each of her kids.
"People look out for each other," she said. "Parents look out for other kids. It's a nice feeling to have."