Each Gillette high school Class of 2019 celebrated in its own unique way Sunday in two ceremonies at the Cam-plex Wyoming Center.
School trustee Lisa Durgin estimated during Thunder Basin High School’s graduation ceremony at 1 p.m. Sunday that each of the 228 seniors — now graduates — spent about 14,000 hours in a classroom from kindergarten to commencement.
That makes a total of nearly 6 million hours in class the past 13 years for the combined 425 graduates including the 197 Campbell County High School seniors who crossed the stage about four hours later.
Whether they were wearing purple and gold or blue and silver, there were a lot of similarities in the two ceremonies, ranging from tears shed by moms looking on, cellphone photos taken by the graduates themselves or nerves.
“Marcene, why are so many people here?" a CCHS grad asked Marcene Sisel, who has helped organize many graduation ceremonies. “I’m afraid I’m going to fall,” the graduate added.
“Now, do not — do not — do anything funky,” Sisel responded.
There was plenty of funky, though, in evidence for both schools.
Diploma, what diploma?
Alyssa Stumbaugh had focused on the Thunder Basin girls soccer state championship matches this past week, not graduation.
A day after the co-team captain and goaltender kicked the shootout goal to clinch a state title for the Bolts, she wore a cap and gown for her own graduation.
It was such a whirlwind of a week, it’s no surprise she was the last one to pick up her diploma from the table where it sat after the ceremony.
Counselor Joe Moerkerke took matters — and the white envelope holding her diploma — into his own hands.
As he searched for Stumbaugh with no luck, he realized he had her cell number in his phone. Taking a chance, he called her.
And she quickly answered.
“Hey, Alyssa,” he asked. “Do you want your diploma?”
Finding that a wall separated the few feet between them, they quickly met and the diploma was delivered, 30 minutes after the graduates had crossed the stage and wrapped up commencement exercises.
“This is just crazy,” Stumbaugh said of the weekend. “I couldn’t think of a better way to end my high school career.”
She was still talking about the championship game in Jackson on Saturday where she faced just her second shootout ever — the first occurred Friday and also ended in a Bolts win. On Saturday, Stumbaugh saved two goals to put Thunder Basin in position to win the shootout. Then she scored the final goal against Cheyenne Central.
Her celebration continued Sunday, especially when she looked inside that envelope and saw her diploma inside it.
“That was such a great experience,” she said of the soccer title, admitting “graduation hadn’t been on my mind” until Sunday. So she made the most of her experience there, too, visiting with family, friends and classmates as long as she could. She’s just glad it didn’t cost her a diploma.
A token of appreciation
It did cost the Thunder Basin graduates, however. They lined first-year principal John “Gib” Ostheimer’s pockets with quarters, nickels, pennies and dimes — even a peso — as he shook hands and sometimes hugs with all 228 graduates.
While not every graduate slipped him coinage, enough did to fill his pockets.
A few hours later, Chad Bourgeois, the first-year principal at CCHS didn’t have coins. He had about 200 half-inch plastic tiny babies instead. He filled his pockets and then a box as each graduate slipped him a wee one.
One graduate confessed they were supposed to give him poker chips. But then someone handed out the tiny babies instead.
It is Bourgeois’ 10th year of presiding over high school graduations — although not in Gillette — and that was the strangest thing he’s ever received as a parting gift from graduates, he said. He’s been given marbles and pennies before, but “not weird babies that look like someone painted their hair with nail polish."
That’s not all.
One CCHS grad gave Durgin a banana after she handed him his diploma cover, another first. That, Bourgeois said, was a student who planned to give him the banana and recite from “Excalibar,” but then ran out of nerve and just wanted to get rid of the banana. Durgin handed the extra fruit to the assistant giving her the diploma covers.
Bourgeois also received a rabbit — well, a keychain rabbit — from another graduate.
Then again, this was the same class who asked, and received permission from Bourgeois, to build a sandy beach with lawn chairs outside the CCHS main doors on Friday morning.
Unfortunately, the cool spring weather that turned to snow canceled their beach plans.
“I told them yes, but if as much as a grain of sand got inside the school (and custodians had clean it up) …” Bourgeois said. “We had a couple of campers overnight, but that was it. I didn’t see any beach.”
Providing the sparkle
Robert Brill wanted to make his graduation ceremony unforgettable.
So he stopped by the store, picked up two packs of rhinestones and glued them to his shirt collar and a fan he bought at the dollar store to create a cool breeze.
Well, the fan wasn’t part of his original plan. “I got into a rhinestone frenzy and I couldn’t stop,” he said.
Then, topping off his ensemble with a bow tie, he styled his way across the stage.
“I thought about it,” he said as he stood in line preparing to march into the ceremony with the class of 2019. “I wanted to do something to make people remember me. … They’ll see me breezing across the stage.”
Ostheimer said schools are just “bricks and steel.” It’s the people in the that make the difference, he added.
Graduation 2019 was a large illustration of that.