HARRISONBURG — “The Indian way” is diverse, caring and finds success amid failure.

These three components of the school’s spirit were recurrent themes Wednesday night as 182 smiles dressed in blue and white accepted their diplomas during Fort Defiance High School’s 57th annual commencement exercises at Eastern Mennonite University last.

The diversity and altruism of this class, as described by Principle Larry Landes, is marked by musical talents, varied career paths and a focus on counting success as relationship with others rather than solely achievement.

Defined by Landes as a “very diverse and caring class” in an interview before commencement, the Fort Defiance Class of 2019 began the program with a variety of musical performances by FDHS seniors Gabriel Sheets, Gabriella Locke, Victoria Horning and Dean Natale, Melanie Kenney and David Hernandez, Madison Barclay, Augusta Nafziger and Mattie Tindall, as well as the Bella Voce Seniors.

Not only is this year’s class diverse in their talents, but they also will be pursuing a range of different career paths upon their graduation. Thirty-five percent of graduates will be attending four-year colleges and universities across seven states as far as Utah, 30 percent will be earning college degrees at Blue Ridge Community College, 32 percent will immediately enter apprenticeships and certifications as well as begin full-time employment in the work force. Lastly, six members of this class will serve in the military upon graduation.

Specially recognized by Landes during the ceremony were salutatorian Julian Wilson and the valedictorian Seth Spire.

Landes also honored four retiring faculty Elizabeth Williams, Becky Anhold, Millie Davis and Ann McMillan.

Impressions made on faculty by this class were deep and unforgettable according to guest speaker and FDHS Support Staff and coach, Gary Kinzer.

In her introduction of Kinzer, class president Alison Keister said he was chosen for his “embodiment of the Indian way.”

Kinzer recounted past career failures that lead him to find fulfillment in serving FDHS students and set out initiative for students to define success for themselves as how much they love others.

“I’ll tell you what defines you and what equals success,” Kinzer said. “This is no secret. In fact, I hope you spread it everywhere: that’s love. I love every single one of you. I hope you know that and I hope you felt that. I hope wherever you go, you know there is a weird old guy at FDHS that carries you around in his heart.”

While it may be impossible to capture what is just so special about this class, student Alex Niculescu seems to embody the unique, motivated spirit as well as demonstrate the caring bond of the 2019 FDHS graduates.

Niculescu, who happens to be one of Kinzer’s wrestlers, has Down’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder connected with physical and mental disabilities.

Whether wrestling on Kinzer’s team, throwing a shot put in track and field or dressing up for football games, Niculescu was identified by Landes as one of the remarkable students of this year’s class. Next, Niculescue will be pursuing his college degree at Blue Ridge Community College in the fall.

For Landes, Niculescu is a prime example of the diversity and warm-hearted bond of the graduating class.

“Alex is so special to the class,” Landes said. “He is just an example of how these kids care about each other and how they support each other.”

In his closing speech, Spires echoed the multifarious talents of his class as well as the “true success” he feels he achieved of his relationship with his classmates.

“There are so many talented individuals in this class just as deserving if not more so to up here,” Spires said.

Recalling his failure to make it to states in cross-country his senior year, Spires said he realized success was not what he expected to be.

“For me as I recently realized, cross-country was always about more than running,” Spires said. “It was about my cross-country family. The bonds we have developed are some of the strongest we have. I thought would find success in reaching goals — cross-country was a huge success, but not in the way I thought it would be.”

After tassels were turned and caps flew into the air, the Fort Defiance High School Class of 2019 filed out to their respective future paths with Landes, whose birthday happened to fall on this same evening, repeating once more:

“We talk about the Indian way and what that means. I know you get tired of me telling you every day: great day or not, the choice is yours. Truly, life is truly a state of mind.”

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