Zionsville Community High School celebrated the graduation of more than 400 students Sunday in the school gymnasium.
Michael Tanaka stood outside with flower bouquets in buckets, selling them to passing family members as they filed into the school, amidst an air of anticipation.
Some parents brought big-head cutouts of their child to flash in the crowd, while others just stood and cheered when their child entered the gym to take his or her seat in a sea of green on the basketball court.
“The first day of freshman year feels like yesterday,” class president Sophia Phan told her classmates in a recap of their high school journey together and anticipating life outside of ZCHS. “I just know we still have so much room left to grow.”
Principal Tim East reminded the audience that the group of students included those who have registered for military service, members of the ROTC, first responders, exchange students, J. Everett Light Career Center graduates, athletes, musicians, journalists, leaders and philanthropists.
The group, in their four years of high school, collectively raised more than $116,000 for charity, he said.
Tyler Benson was this year’s salutatorian. He plans to study molecular biology at Princeton University.
Valedictorian Joseph Kurek will study physics at Harvard University, but in his speech encouraged classmates to ignore societal expectations about college.
“We need to do what makes us happiest,” he said, adding that those who are set to study for a degree in medicine, for example, should rethink their choice if they don’t really enjoy science.
He urged classmates to also consider trade school, the military, or even a gap year before pursuing a college career, if needed. “Wherever you are going, make sure you are doing something fulfilling,” not what society expects, he said.
“You can learn a lot of things from other people, but not being happy,” he said. “That’s something you have to learn on your own.” He urged classmates to use their own gauges to measure success.
Student speaker Alex Wall told the others, “Being grown up means taking responsibility for your actions.” Everyone makes mistakes, but what matters is how an individual addresses the mistakes, he added.
“Let us challenge ourselves to be adults like the adults in this room modeled so well for us,” he concluded.
Graduates batted beach balls overhead instead of throwing their caps, as they were simultaneously showered in confetti at the ceremony's end.
Well-wishers needed a ticket to enter the gymnasium, but no tickets were required to watch the event live-streamed in the auditorium, which had more comfortable seating and no bleachers to climb.
One official estimated 300 fewer people crowded into the gym this year because the auditorium was offered, but the gym was still packed, and some larger families stood together, rather than spreading out among the open spots on the bleachers.