Mini graduation honors St. Charles employees

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper High School senior Mariah Hief walks around the parking lot lined with families at their cars during the graduation ceremony at St. Charles Health Campus in Jasper on Thursday. St. Charles staff held the ceremony in their parking lot and lawn area to recognize their employees who are graduating from high school and college.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Graduates clad in caps and gowns walked around the Square at St. Charles Health Campus Thursday night as their families cheered from the parking lot.

The ceremony honored 10 St. Charles Health Campus employees who are set to graduate from either high school or college this year. Eight high school seniors and two college graduates received flowers and a St. Charles “diploma” before turning their tassels in a socially distanced commencement.

“Though this may not be the commencement you pictured, it doesn’t make your accomplishment have any less worth, and it does not go unnoticed,” said Bailey Sherman, St. Charles’ community services representative and emcee for the ceremony.

The graduates’ co-workers organized the activity as a way to honor the hard work and dedication the students put into their studies and to ensure they got some recognition while many schools’ commencement ceremonies remain up in the air.

“It just means a lot,” said Brittany Westfall, 34, of Shoals. “I’ve worked here so long, and this company really gives back.”

Westfall has been a licensed practical nurse at St. Charles for several years and recently earned her registered nurse credential from Vincennes University. Eventually, she plans to go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree. She plans to continue working at St. Charles while also seeking work as an emergency room nurse.

Jazlyn Zehr, 11, and Heather Zehr, both of Dubois, sit at their car while they watch Jazlyn’s sister, Jasper High School senior Breanna Zehr, walk during the graduation ceremony at St. Charles Health Campus in Jasper on Thursday. The cardboard cutouts are characters from Breanna’s favorite television show, Supernatural.

Westfall and her VU peers were supposed to have their commencement ceremony last weekend, but it was canceled. She thinks there will be one in August, but by then, many of her peers will have moved on to their jobs and may not make it back for the ceremony.

For Jasper High School student Catherine Rosales, 18, the ceremony brought her one step closer to feeling closure for her high school career. She plans to attend Indiana University Southeast in pursuit of a nursing degree. Eventually, she wants to be a family nurse practitioner in a gynecology office.

“I’m speechless,” she said. “It was something awesome.”

So far, Jasper High School has not announced any plans to reschedule commencement.

The evening was special for the students’ families, too. Each student was allowed to have one car load of family, and cheers erupted around the parking lot each time a name was called. Several families came with signs and balloons to celebrate.

“Just to see her do the walk was nice,” said Alex Zehr, whose daughter Breanna is a senior at JHS. “We’re proud. We’re super proud.”

For Breanna, not being at school with her friends and teachers has been a challenge. She’s grateful for her job at St. Charles, though, because many of her friends also work for the company. Thursday’s ceremony offered her a chance to celebrate graduation with a few of her peers before she heads off to Indiana Wesleyan to pursue a nursing degree with the hopes of becoming a psychiatric nurse.

In addition to the families that turned out to honor the graduates, St. Charles residents attended as well, placing signs in their windows and watching from their rooms as the graduates made the walk around the Square. It was a community effort to make sure the graduates knew that even without formal commencement ceremonies at their schools, their accomplishments are to be celebrated.




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