“We made it!” was a theme addressed by speakers of the McAlester High School Class of 2014 to the 179 seniors at Friday evening commencement exercises held Friday evening at the Southeast Expo Center.

In an hour-long program celebrating past accomplishments and future potential, student leaders encouraged their fellow graduates to go forward into life, while there was also a special remembrance for a departed classmate.

Principal Paula Meadows pointed the crowd’s attention to an empty chair. She explained it was there in memory of Kristin Collins, who was with them when the Class of ’14 were fifth-grade students, when Collins lost her life in an accident.

“One of the greatest days in a senior’s life,” was how McAlester Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Marsha Gore described graduation.

Gore was warmly thanked by the first of the students to speak during the program, in the welcoming remarks from Senior Class President Kaylee Harvanek.

Calling Dr. Gore “totally awesome,” Harvanek went on to describe the senior year as a “ton” of fun.

She also encouraged her classmates to “dare to work harder,” and “don’t be afraid to fail. “

“It looks like we made it after all,” she told the Class of 2014.

Following her remarks was the valedictory address of Conner Giles, who said “Here we are.”

Giles spoke of this being a point in the seniors’ lives “to take a leap towards life.”

He also noted the passing phases of life when he said “With every beginning, there comes an end.”

Academic All-State student and Co-Valedictorian Brandi Hongell provided the other valedictory address to the graduating class and guests.

While recognizing the value of the teaching her class had received, she addressed how some things were beyond the classroom in quoting Oscar Wilde; “Nothing worth learning can be taught.”

“Gradation is a trophy of your ability to persevere,” Hongell told the assembled seniors.

She spoke to the unique nature of each of the graduates of the MHS Class of 2014 when she said “There is not a mold you are meant to fill.”

“We made it,” she also told those about to walk across the stage.

Dr. Gore again addressed the seniors and those gathered to celebrate their graduation with them, and explained the special insignia on the regalia of some of the graduates. They included devices to note Academic All State, Red Cross donor, Valedictorian, Salutatorian, Oklahoma Academic Scholar, National Honor Society and McAlester’s Promise.

Each time she described one of the special programs, she had those seniors in that group stand, and a large percentage of the class did so at one point or another in that portion  of the commencement exercises.

The next part of the ceremonies came in the salutatory address presented by Cambrea Lott.

Lott told her fellow graduates they “all have the potential to do great things.”

Meadows came back next, and wanted to recognize the Class of 2014’s other Salutatorian, Makenna Smith. Meadows said Smith was ill with an illness she had battled all year and was unable to make it to the graduation exercises, but she wanted her to be recognized.

The next phase was the awaited one of the crossing of the stage as each graduate’s name was called. They were greeted and congratulated by members of the McAlester Public Schools board.

Then came the roar and celebration when the graduates were told to move their tassels from one side of their cap to the other.

One final member of the class was yet to speak, before the event concluded and students celebrated with families and friends, Student Council President Jonathan Chang.

After humorously mentioning he was the one thing between his classmates and the ceremonies being over, he touched on the need to be thankful.

“I challenge you all,” Chang told his fellow graduates, “to thank as many” people as they could in life.

Music was played by the McAlester band during part of the program, with groups of students also singing the MHS Fanfare, the National Anthem, and the Alma Mater.

There were some jarring notes at the graduation. Many of those came from the air horns that periodically were set off by people in the audience. The blasts were sometimes quite powerful under the closed-roof confines of the Expo Center.

A very large crowd occupied both sides in the telescopic seating at the Expo and the large number of chairs placed in rows behind those of the graduating class.

What may have appeared to look like hundreds of large golden butterflies were actually graduation programs being pressed into service as fans in the warm and non-air conditioned part of the Expo.

Also near the start of the event, Meadows had said there was an accident on the way to graduation, but no one was seriously injured. She later stated as far as she knew no students were involved in the accident and was told ambulances were sent only as a precaution and were not used.

Police spokesman Sgt. Chris Morris confirmed that the accident had initially looked bad and two ambulances were dispatched, but everything turned out to be all right.

All in all, the MHS Class of 2014 did make it, and their future lies ahead.

John Yates, of McAlester Radio, is a special correspondent for the News-Capital.