WINCHESTER — Jacoby Auditorium on the Umpqua Community College campus was beaming with love and support Tuesday night, with its 1,010 seating capacity nearly three-quarters full for a Phoenix Charter High School graduation ceremony for 40 students.

The feeling of “family” was in the air as the graduates filed into the auditorium with many having spent the last four years together. UCC was a comfortable place for the graduation, since many of the students have been taking courses there and all the students will receive one free term at UCC upon graduation.

“It’s incredible — the talent, the personalities, the energy — it does my heart so much good to see you guys ready to go out on your own into the world to make your way and make this a better place to live,” said Phoenix Executive Director Ron Breyne during the graduation welcome.

Roseburg Public Schools Director of Student Services Rick Burton also offered some heartfelt words of advice to the graduates and said, “You need to follow what’s important in your heart and you need to make decisions that are important to you . . . and remember . . . that a goal without a plan is a wish, so you always have to set reasonable goals and be patient with yourself.”

Graduate speaker Kevin Hansberger said, “Perseverance is the key to success.” He shared about how the school helped him conquer his past issues and set him on a bright and optimistic path to the future. The school taught him to respect education and helped him turn his once poor grades into a 4.0 GPA.

Another graduate also shared her warm sentiments for her teachers at the ceremony.

“You taught us to walk so we could hold our heads high instead of having to crawl on our hands and knees,” said Evelynn Davidson. “You taught us to talk so that we could change the world with our voices and opinions, even if sometimes you hated it because we back talked.”

A third graduate, Danielle Risley, said, “As we embark on new adventures, it is now our turn to make a difference in the lives of those around us. As you go out into this world, I commission you Class of 2016 with this charge: dream impossible dreams and be people with hearts longing for impossible things.”

After the ceremony, graduate Aaron Jones said that graduation was significant because he waited for this moment his entire life. During his high school experience, he said he enjoyed meeting new people the most and finding out that “teachers were really cool.”

Graduate Gabrielle Valdes, 18, who briefly brought her 2-year-old son with her on stage as she accepted her diploma, said the biggest lesson she learned in high school was “to not give up, because if you give up you can’t go anywhere, so keep going,” she said.

Valdes said she’ll miss all the kind people she met in school and said, “Here it’s more like a big family,” lacking the competition and drama of larger schools.

Other students also expressed emotional sentiments after the graduation ceremony.

“I’m graduating from Phoenix Charter School and I get a big start on my adventure in life,” said graduate Jadyn Whittington, 16, who also thanked her teachers for helping her graduate early so she can get a jump on attending the early college program at UCC.

The biggest lesson Whittington learned during high school was to “be who are and don’t let anybody form you,” she said.

Graduate Mathew Downing said the most important lesson he learned in high school was to “take care of myself and make sure I’m doing what I love.” He plans to attend UCC to become a teacher.

Senior Faith Morris was enthused about graduation because “I worked hard to get here and I’ve had a lot of support and without that support I don’t think that I would be here,” she said, referring to the school, friends and family. “It really means a lot for me to get to walk today.”

Reporter Vera Westbrook can be reached at 541-957-4216 or vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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Education and Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Vera Westbrook is the education, nonprofits, and arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4216 or by email at vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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