Valedictorian Kayley Swinton. Teachers stand to the right of graduates. (Emily Files)

Valedictorian Kayley Swinton. Teachers stand to the right of graduates. (Emily Files)

Twenty-one Haines High School seniors graduated Tuesday evening in an upbeat, music-filled ceremony. The class valedictorian and the commencement speaker told the young adults in white and green caps and gowns: what you do now is in your hands.

Seniors Jenae Larson and Matthew Green sang Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ to their graduating class of 21 small-town students, about to set off on journeys of their own.

Salutatorian Bailey Stuart. (Emily Files)

Salutatorian Bailey Stuart. (Emily Files)

“After today, life will be different,” said salutatorian Bailey Stuart. “We will no longer be a close-knit group of 22 students, but 22 individuals who are doing different things in our own different ways.”

Commencement Speaker Suzanne Newton expanded on that theme.

“So my message to you, is your life’s about to get real.”

Newton has known the class of 2016 since they were in third grade. She’s a paraeducator at the school.

“For the last 17 or 18 years your life has been somewhat planned and orchestrated for you. People help you walk, talk, use the potty, brush your teeth, take a bath, go to school, go to class. They tell you when to eat, what to eat, to do your homework.”

Now, Newton said, it’s their turn to make their own decisions and their own mistakes.

Commencement speaker Suzanne Newton. (Emily Files)

Commencement speaker Suzanne Newton. (Emily Files)

“And I hope you make glorious, fantastic mistakes. I want you to keep learning from them.”

Newton said, when making decisions, don’t follow the herd. Don’t be ‘sheeple.’ Then, she paraphrased comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

“Never follow someone’s path. Unless you’re the woods, and you’re lost, and there’s a path. Then of course you want to follow that one.”

Overall, Newton said, develop integrity. She called it the most valuable trait. And, she told the students, “believe in yourselves.”

“Believe in the fact that you’re going to screw up, you’re going to fall flat, you’re going to hurt deep in your heart. But Haines 2016 graduates, that’s life. That’s what real. That’s where you’re going. And it’s undeniably the most satisfying thing there is.”

Graduates Matthew Green, Zane Durr, Autumn Gross, and Destinee Cowart sing 'Count on Me.' (Emily Files)

Graduates Matthew Green, Zane Durr, Autumn Gross, and Destinee Cowart sing ‘Count on Me.’ (Emily Files)

Newton told the graduates to let go of any frustrations or fears about what comes next. She said it’s time to “get real” and “shake it off.”

That’s when the dance party started, to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off.’

Valedictorian Kayley Swinton closed the ceremony with a speech using basketball as a metaphor. She talked about how so many games are won or lost on the free-throw line. She compared free-throws to life after high school, where you have to stay focused and determined.

“In a few minutes, our names will be called and we’ll walk across this gym floor and receive our diplomas,” Swinton said. “We’ll have to focus on our goals and not let other pressure us down the wrong path. I’ll guarantee that we will miss a time or two. Everyone does.

Destinee Cowart sings 'Little Wonders.' (Emily Files)

Destinee Cowart sings ‘Little Wonders.’ (Emily Files)

I know I have. Some games I couldn’t make a free throw to save my life. Other games, I couldn’t miss. But no matter what, I was always ready to approach the line again with confidence in my hard work.”

Swinton said they have to have the strength to keep trying, despite past failures or pressures.

“Your success is up to you. I wish you all good luck as you step up to the line.”

One by one, the high school students received their diplomas and became graduates.