Survive and advance: Wise choices, smart decisions lead to diplomas for 153 Rock Falls High School graduates

May 27, 2019

ROCK FALLS – Graduates, faculty, family and friends survived sweltering heat Sunday during Rock Falls High School’s 140th graduation commencement at Tabor Gymnasium.

Program booklets turned into makeshift fans, whipping the air around. Memories of a cooler time were stirred when Valedictorian MacKenzie Olson mentioned February’s polar vortex, which, to her mind, paled in comparison to surviving her P.E. running tests.

Getting through the polar vortex “truly a blessing for us seniors because we didn’t have to make up all of those snow days,” she said, adding “no matter what we survived, we did it together.”

That survival was celebrated by the Class of 2019 Sunday, when 153 students – including 28 members of the National Honor Society – received their diplomas.

Senior class President Emily Buikema rehashed how her class overcame freshman fears, sophomore job searching and the junior jockeying to figure out which college will work for them.

Salutatorian Debra Ratliff spoke of the growth process of her fellow classmates in areas beyond the high school walls.

“Each one of you should be proud of yourself,” Ratliff said. “We’ve overcome many odds. … Looking around, I see those who have overcome poverty, abuse, depression, anxiety, broken homes, and many, many other issues. 

“We did not let those issues define us.” 

Olson also talked about how she and her classmates had to make many smart and tough choices every day make it through high school.

In fact, the average person makes about 35,000 choices each day, she said, noting how even the smallest decision can make a huge impact on your life.

“As we learned after 4 years at Rock Falls High School, time flies too fast,” Olson said. “Life will go even faster. But don’t spend time dwelling on the past, because it will never lead to new choices that should, and could, make up our future.

“Here we are, 4 years later, now, mostly, mature young adults ready to take on life outside the Rock Falls halls of pride. Time has really flown by.” 

Also honored were 63 recipients of scholarships, awards and other honors; as well as students who have committed to serve in the military.

Spanish teacher Lucas Madding also was honored as the Student Council’s Teacher of the Year.

“Señor” Madding, who has taught at the school for 6 years, takes time to make sure each student has fun with classroom activities, whether its incorporating the “Harry Potter” series into his lessons, or documenting funny things that students say into a book, student counselor Katie Carlson said.

“What sets [him] apart is the ability to balance fun and learning in the classroom,” Carlson said. “I’ve never had a teacher make learning so fun.”

Madding gave tribute to the graduating class with the humorous sarcasm his students have come to enjoy.

“It’s nice to feel appreciated, and it’s nice to get this trophy, but you guys were exhausting,” Madding joked.

“You guys are the reason why I teach. I love you guys, but you’re exhausting – like when you ask me for directions I gave 3 seconds ago; or when you ask me, the Spanish teacher, if the Spanish assignment in Spanish class, needs to be be written in Spanish.

“It’s been fun to watch you guys grow up from little, scared and annoying freshmen, to big, bold, annoying seniors.”

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