Clinton grads honor fallen classmate
CLINTON—Reflection was in the air for many in the Clinton Class of 2014 Saturday night.
But rather than being defined by a tragedy that affected the school, students chose to remember and honor a fallen classmate.
Noah Morris, who died in July 2012, was represented at the ceremony by an empty cap, gown and chair. He was killed in a car accident the summer before his junior year. Something his classmates say they will never forget.
"He would be graduating today," graduate Taryn Ciochon said. "Today is sad and really special at the same time."
More than half of the school's 95 graduates decorated their caps with his initials and other insignia honoring him.
"It's a real honor," said Dessa Laursen, Noah's sister who works at the school. "It feels really good to know people remember him. He was very positive. He was always smiling."
Morris' parents were honored at the graduation ceremony with a plaque.
"He was friends with everyone," Ciochon said. "He touched a lot of people. Everyone knows his story so it didn't just affect us. It affected the whole town."
In the age of smart phones and instant communication, cellphones are more important to graduates than ever. Walking the halls prior to the graduation ceremony, a reporter found groups of friends posing for photos and posting them to social media sites.
"Our generation is kind of weird," Ciochon said. "I like to have memories instantly. Our class is pretty open with everyone so we are all taking pictures. We want to remember the impact we've had on this school."
Of the 95 graduates, six students were a part of the school's foreign exchange program. Maria Schuetz has been going to school at Clinton for a year. She is from Munich, Germany.
"I was so scared when I first came," Schuetz said. "It was just such a big difference. Now I feel at home. It's like a family and it's really nice."
Schuetz plans to return to Germany this summer but hopes to return to the United States for part of her college career.
"I guess I'm just living the dream," Schuetz said. "My family is glad I came here and I'm glad, too."
Valedictorian Jacob Taylor told his classmates to echo lessons they have been taught all their lives to others as they go their separate ways.
"Teach what those have taught to you," Taylor said. "Because one day whether, you, I, or anybody else knows it, it does matter."
"Our graduates today have gotten here because of family, friends, teachers and this community," Randy Refsland, district administrator, said.
Class president Jacob Marchillo hoped to return the favor as he presented a 60-inch high-definition television to the school's library on behalf of the Class of 2014.
Rather than reading his speech, he had one last refrain for his fellow classmates.