Ombudsman honors three graduates (Grand Island, Neb.)

Date: December 18, 2015

Written by Harold Reutter

Perhaps there were only three graduates at Friday’s Ombudsman Graduation ceremony, but that did not make it any less joyous for all the people that attended.

The ceremony honored Cristian Echeverria Guzman, Maria Garcia and Michael Lade, as well as Kelly Phothisane, who could not be at graduation because of a family member who needed surgery.

But it did not matter if the ceremony was honoring three graduates or 500. Everyone in the audience rose as Guzman, Garcia and Lade, garbed in graduation robes and caps, walked down the center aisle to their seats.

GIPS Superintendent Rob Winter then gave the commencement address.

“This is a really big deal and it’s an important deal,” said Winter, who said his initial remarks would be specifically aimed at each of the three graduates. “This celebration honors your vision, your commitment and your perseverance.”

Maggie Mintken, assistant principal at Grand Island Senior High School, watches the Ombudsman Center graduation with admiration. (Independent/Andrew Carpenean)

Maggie Mintken, assistant principal at Grand Island Senior High School, watches the Ombudsman Center graduation with admiration. (Independent/Andrew Carpenean)

Winter said he knows that each of the graduates have faced challenges to make it to high school graduation. “All challenges are not bad,” he said.

He noted the people often face challenges in the classroom, as well as in their places of work. “These are healthy challenges,” Winter said.

But he also noted there are other kinds of challenges to achieving what they want, which can include alcohol or drug use, as well as illegal or unacceptable behavior.

Other times, those challenges can come from people who want to be their friends, and who are willing to engage in illegal or unethical behavior themselves, Winter said.

Graduates can be sure they will encounter challenges after leaving the Ombudsman program, Winter said. He said they should embrace the healthy and “stay away from” the unhealthy challenges.

The superintendent returned to his opening theme, urging the graduates to retain their vision, their commitment and their perseverance.

Winter then turned his attention to the family members of the graduates, noting their role in getting the students get to their graduation day. “They (the graduates) did not get here by themselves,” he said. “They had help.”

Linda Sanders, Grand Island Ombudsman Center director, also noted many people had a role in helping the graduates get their diplomas.

She pointed to family, the Ombudsman teaching staff, people who work in different parts of state government, Grand Island school board members, Grand Island Senior High administrative staff and GIPS central office administrative staff. Sanders thanked people from each of these groups for attending the graduation.

Both during and after the ceremony, Sanders talked about the plans that each graduate has for the future. In some cases, the graduates have already embarked on those plans.

She said Guzman is learning about welding through Central Community College, while Garcia will also be working toward a career in criminal justice through Central Community College. Lade is doing auto mechanic/auto body work. Phothisane will also be taking CCC classes to further her career aspirations.

Guzman, Garcia and Lade each came forward to shake Sanders’ hand, receive their diploma and also shake Winter’s hand. That was the time for family members to take as many pictures as they wanted. Winter made sure they had as much time as they wanted to snap photos; he refused to release each graduate’s hand until he was absolutely sure the picture-taking was complete.

In addition to getting their diplomas, the three students also participated in a ceremonial gesture. Sanders noted that each time Ombudsman students completed seven assignments in a single day, they earned mittens or a knitted hat. Those mittens and hats were hung on a Christmas tree at Ombudsman.

As part of commencement, Sanders had the three graduates hang mittens on the tree. Sanders had each of the Ombudsman teachers hang their own mittens on the tree before she attached her own pair of mittens to the tree. Sanders said staff participated because they helped students coomplete their assignments.

Sanders said there is a community service aspect to the hanging of mittens and hats, because she said their ultimate destination is Hope Harbor.

After receiving their diplomas, Guzman, Garcia and Lade then walked back down the center aisle as “Pomp and Circumstance” once again marked their progress. Then it was time for more commencement tradition, with people enjoying graduation cake and more photos.

The latter round of photos also featured many different groupings of family members and friends in front of the camera lenses, getting their picture taken with the newly minted graduate.

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