Freshmen make promise to graduate

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Southridge High School freshman Aaron Lubbehusen signed his name on a banner this morning in the school auditorium to symbolize his commitment to graduate from high school in four years. Jostens sales representative Reid Sakel of Huntingburg gave the school’s freshman class a presentation about the benefits of graduating from high school before having the students sign their names to the banner, which will be displayed in the school.

Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Southridge High School freshmen took a walk across the auditorium stage this morning to shake the principal’s hand.

It will be four years before Principal Kelly Murphy gives them each a diploma on that stage, but this first trip was a symbolic one. Each of the 132 freshmen had just made a commitment to graduate on time by signing a banner, shaking the administrators’ hands and donning a green wristband to show off their new promise.

Guidance counselor Jenny Fowler worked with 2003 Southridge graduate and Jostens representative Reid Sakel to bring the Commitment to Graduate ceremony to the school. This is the first time any high school in Dubois County has hosted the program, which is offered through Jostens yearbook and class ring stores throughout the country.

“I just think it’s a great start to the high school career,” Fowler said. “We hope to do this every year. It was pretty cool. They just seemed pumped.”

Sakel began the program by asking the students to think about the timeline of their lives. In a typical lifespan of 80 years, what people do early on during their education will affect the following 60 years, he said.

“It’s never too early to begin talking about graduation. Freshman year, everything’s a little bit different: New teachers, new principal, new building,” he said. “These are the most important four years of your lives. You’ve got to get that ticket to the future, your diploma.”

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jostens sales representative Reid Sakel of Huntingburg, right, had Southridge High School freshmen Kyler Schlachter, left, and Josh Dixey stand closer together along a tape measure that was stretched 80 feet to represent a lifespan of 80 years. Kyler and Josh represented along the timeline the time they enter high school as freshmen and the time they graduate. Sakel used the exercise to stress that what people do early on during their education affects the following 60 years of their lives.

Sakel also explained the financial advantages to graduating from high school. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that in 2006, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts 25 and older was more than 1.5 times the rate of individuals who had a high school diploma. Data for the same year also shows that median annual earnings for high school graduates were about 32 percent higher than the earnings of dropouts.

According to state law, the Indiana Department of Education measures high school graduation rates by following a class of students from freshman year to senior year. In 2012, the last year for which data is available, 104 students out of an original group of 126 received a diploma at Southridge by the end of four years, giving the school a graduation rate of 83 percent. That rate dropped from 87 percent in 2011 and 88 percent in 2010.

Jasper High School achieved a 2012 graduation rate of 93 percent, Forest Park High School had a rate of 91 percent, and Northeast Dubois High School and Heritage Hills High School graduated 96 percent of students.

Fowler says the banner that each student signed will serve as a constant reminder of the promise each one made. It will hang in the hallway where the students’ lockers are and follow them to the sophomore hallway next year. Eventually, each class’s hall in the school will be adorned with a banner.

Freshman Emily Epley said she will not take the ceremony lightly.

“I told the principal my name and shook his hand and told him I was committed,” she said after high-fiving her teachers and upperclassman mentors. Many students cheered and waved their wristbands in the air as they left the stage.

Epley’s classmate Jordan Echeverria agreed that he had fun taking his first step toward a bright future.

“It’s motivational,” he said of the program.

Sakel will return to the school in October to put on a similar program for the senior class. They will sign a graduation robe symbolizing their commitment to continuing their education, and the teachers will sign a mortarboard cap symbolizing their willingness to help the seniors on their journeys.

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