By Larry Kline
GILDFORD - "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
A line from a Semisonic song served as an appropriate class motto for the six people who took the leap from high school to the future at the 2005 KG graduation on Sunday. The same could be said for the 14 students on the last flight of the Blue Sky Eagles in Rudyard on Saturday afternoon.
They represented the end of one beginning.
The new beginning starts in the fall, when the remaining students from both schools come together as the North Star Knights.
"This graduation is not only a landmark in our lives, it's a landmark in our community," senior Conrad Wendland said in his welcoming speech at the Blue Sky ceremony. "We are the last in a long line of Eagles. Blue Sky has long been a symbol of excellence, and I feel this class is no different."
Students, faculty and administrators all described the mood at both commencements as somber but exciting. There are memories to be found in the halls of both schools, ones that won't soon dissipate, but now there is an opportunity to create new memories, new goals and new achievements.
"KG will not be erased," biology and English teacher Mandy Nitz said in her commencement address. "We're moving on, but KG will stay. It's the place we played, we learned and we laughed.
"There is excitement and some nervousness at the same time," she said later. "The kids and the teachers are looking out for each other. We're moving forward."
"Overall, we're optimistic," said Blue Sky athletic director and math teacher Brian Campbell, who delivered the final Eagles commencement address. "This was fabulous for the kids graduating today, but it's also fabulous for the kids graduating next year."
"It was something coming to an end," Blue Sky Superintendent Terry Grant said. "The kids are realizing that. There's some excitement as well."
Residents in both districts voted for consolidation last June, choosing to unite two districts that were facing similar problems - declining enrollment and budgets. An interim consolidation board decided in January to house grades 7-12 in Rudyard and keep elementary students in Gildford.
Grant will serve as the new district's superintendent. He said the consolidated district will offer more opportunities for kids in the communities of Hingham, Rudyard, Kremlin and Gildford.
Each elementary grade will have its own teacher, Grant said, and there will be more classes offered at the high school level. Eventually, Grant would like to see the district offer a range of advanced placement courses.
"The teachers are excited about this," Grant said. "The kids are excited about this. Educationally, I don't think there's a downside with this. I think the biggest thing is coming together and making this an educational and positive time for the students."
KG Superintendent John Ballard said it was important to remember the accomplishments of the graduates. Though some may have considered the occasion a sad one, consolidation is a step into the future, he said. And the communities may again be faced with the issues that brought about consolidation at some point down the road.
"It's progress. This has the potential to add some electives," he said. "But given the demographics, there's just not enough kids along the Hi-Line to sustain this for a long period. I think that's going to have to be looked at."
Ballard has accepted a position as school superintendent in Bridger. He said he wishes the communities and students of North Star well.
For the 20 graduates who walked out of the school hallways and into the rest of their lives, there were some mixed emotions. They were positive about the changes coming to their respective communities. They were happy to move on to college, the military or a job. They were also reflective, knowing that their schools would no longer be there.
Blue Sky's Kyle Renaker said there was a "certain amount of pride" that went along with being in the school's final class.
"I'm glad I went here," he said. "It was a good experience."
He said the consolidation will be a step in the right direction for future students.
""We thought it was a good idea," Renaker said. "It will be like all of the opportunities we had here, times two."
KG grad Kris Probert said the students feel good about the new direction.
"It's been pretty positive lately," he said. "Everybody has been in a good mood. Today was sort of an exception."
Blue Sky salutatorian Jasmine Mikulecky said this graduation was special for everyone involved. "Graduation is something you'll remember for the rest of your life, but this is also something this community will always remember."
KG salutatorian Whitney Hanson said her classmates feel good about the consolidation even though they're detached from its effects.
"We're on the outside looking in," she said. "We're watching it all unfold, but it's not going to affect us. I think it's going to be a really good thing. I've heard other kids talking, and I know they're excited."
KG counselor and teacher Melanie Watson said consolidation has presented some challenges but offers a lot of hope for the future.
"It's been a difficult process, but it leaves us with a lot to look forward to," she said. "As with any change, there's been some sadness and some apprehension. But in the end we'll pull together and make it happen."
There are challenges and rewards ahead for the students, faculty and staff of North Star Public Schools. Perhaps they can borrow something from the 2005 Blue Sky class motto:
"If the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve."