The Dundee-Crown students who arrived at the Sears Centre in caps and gowns Saturday have been through a lot together. They grieved the loss of two classmates and a teacher. They lobbied against the Sears economic development area. They took part in a schoolwide walkout and held a dance party on the last day of classes.
Principal Lynn McCarthy told them they led by example during their time at Dundee-Crown and will be missed by teachers, administrators and the students they are leaving behind.
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Many students were already looking forward toward their next steps -- like valedictorian David Nellessen, who graduated with a 5.97 grade-point average and is heading to Northwestern University next year. Nellessen refuted the idea that high school will remain the best years of the graduates' lives.
"While I loved my time at Dundee-Crown, I hope for all of us that our best times are in front of us," Nellessen said.
Students from across District 300 graduated Saturday with ceremonies at the Sears Centre spaced throughout the day. The first class to start and finish their high school careers at Hampshire High School's new campus accepted diplomas. The 276 graduates amassed almost $2.7 million in scholarships to continue their education. Connie Ellett, a golfer, will attend Northern Illinois University next year on a full ride and Cassie Kruse will do the same for cross country at the University of New Hampshire.
At Jacobs High School, the 537 graduates earned more than $6.5 million in scholarship offers and almost 90 percent of them plan to go to college. Several others will join the military.
Dundee-Crown held the largest ceremony with 588 students graduating. Their names scrolled across the arena for the duration of the ceremony, which opened with music by the Dundee-Crown orchestra.
Thirty-seven students marked the first class of AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, graduates who got four years of college readiness programming. McCarthy said all of them are going to college.
In her speech Saturday, McCarthy bragged for the students, 16 of whom scored at least a 30 on the ACT and 350 of whom were on the honor roll or higher during their final year. Together, the graduates were offered $3.6 million in scholarships from universities across the country.
Allison Kolar, who graduated with a 5.96 GPA as salutatorian, told her classmates they probably wouldn't remember much of the ceremony -- the numbers McCarthy listed, the people they sat near, the clothes they wore.
"What I say in this speech doesn't particularly matter," Kolar said.
But the memory the Boston-bound grad said would stick -- the moment when the diploma was placed in their hands -- that's a feeling of accomplishment all of the District 300 graduates can carry with them forever.
Staff writer Hailey Czarnecki contributed to this report.