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Cheers, laughter, tears at Box Elder graduation

There were cheers, tears and laughter as the 11 members of the Box Elder High School Class of 2013 were saluted at commencement ceremonies Saturday.

Havre Daily News/John Kelleher

Dakota Sage Standing Rock, left, and Jacob Burns pose for a picture as they get read to march into the Box Elder High School for graduation ceremonies.

The graduates walked into the gymnasium down a yellow and white path lined with blue balloons.

Leading the procession was Jonni Rose Bacon, the valedictorian, who won a host of scholarships, including a GEAR UP Scholarship with a value of $22,580. She was one of 50 in Montana to win such a scholarship.

Bacon will go to Montana State University at Bozeman. She plans to become a doctor specializing in diabetes prevention and care.

A slideshow with photos of the graduates from their younger days through graduation brought laughter and cheers from the audience.

Featured speaker Joel Rosette, a Chippewa Cree tribal attorney, Box Elder alumni and girls basketball coach, urged graduates to become leaders in the effort for change.

"There's a lot more to be done out there ... in this community, in this world.," he said.

"I'm just like you," he said. "I grew up in these villages right here," he said.

He said their adventure wasn't over with graduation.

"There are a lot more mountains to climb," he said.

"I don't want to lie and stand up here and say it will be easy," he told them. "But if you put your focus into this you will succeed."

"We don't have too many graduating from college in this community," he said. "We need to change that."

He called on them to become doctors or accountants.

"We have four or five Box Elder graduates teaching here," he said. "We need more."

Bacon became emotional during her address, saying she had known most of her class since kindergarten and some before that.

She thanked teachers, class advisers and others in the school for the encouragement they had given students.

"One moment, we were freshmen," she said. "The next moment, we were seniors."

"We made a lot of memories together," she said.

She became especially teary-eyed as she thanked her mother, who had worked on several class projects over the years.

The first Dr. Robert Joseph Swan Scholarship was awarded to Bacon, and there were tears as it was presented.

Swan's son said he stopped to visit his father's grave before attending ceremonies to make sure he could get through his speech without breaking down,.

Robert J. Swan, longtime community leader and businessman, died Jan. 1.

He said his father, a devout fan of the University of Montana Grizzlies, would be amused that the first winner of the scholarship named in his honor would be going to Montana State University.

His father graduated from Box Elder High School more than 50 years ago, he said.

"He made great contributions to the world, especially this small corner of the world, Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation."

Bacon and others handed out Indian blankets to numerous people who helped the class over the years, and the entire class walked in line to shake hands with and present a plaque to retiring School Superintendent Robert Heppner, who has headed Box Elder schools for 12 years.

High School principal Darin Hannum, soon to be the new superintendent, called out the names of the graduates, who received diplomas from school board chair Barbara Friede.


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