WHEATFIELD — As the main gymnasium at Kankakee Valley High School filled with friends and family, a video played of seniors thanking the many people who have helped them through their lives up to graduation day, including teachers, parents, grandparents and family. The video was the creation of the Class of 2019 Valedictorian Halee Griffey, who thanked those who participated when she gave her speech before her classmates.

As Principal Michael Spagna introduced the assistant principals, Guy Skrobul, who is now the principal at the KV Middle School, received a rousing cheer from the graduates.

Salutatorian Cat Cavinder, who is attending the Air Force Academy in the fall, spoke first. She said her class is full of high achievers. She told them not to change to fit in once they leave the halls of Kankakee Valley High School. “I think we’re the best class KV has had and will continue to be,” she said.

Griffey, who is also the class president, is the daughter of Michelle and William Griffey. She will be attending IUPUI in the fall. Griffey talked about the war in Iraq, which began shortly after her birth and has affected her and her classmates through their whole lives. She said she heard the late Sen. Richard Lugar talk about world issues and she has decided to pursue international studies. To end her speech, she said to her fellow graduates, “Make it a great life – or not, the choice is yours.”

She shared the spotlight with the class Vice President Vanessa Villalpando when it came time for the class president’s speech. Griffey asked the seniors and the guests to play a game of “That’s me.” She asked them all to stand if they were a part of the group she announced, which included the seniors who participated in school activities, like sports, clubs, band and chorus. She asked the graduates who have enrolled in the military to stand, which brought on a standing ovation from the crowd. She also asked those who had served or are serving in the crowd to stand as well.

They were all instructed to stand, say “That’s me,” clap twice then sit down. It was a good way to settle nerves as the students looked towards the moment when they would receive their diplomas. Villalpando said to her classmates, “Everyone should try to be the best version of themselves. Never let individuality fade at the hands of others.”

She also told her class to seek help when they are walking in the darkness and to put passion and love into everything they do.

Graduates in band and choir performed with their groups one last time before the time to receive diplomas came. As their names were read, each one walked across a stage greeted by the Assistant Superintendent of Schools Allisa Schnick, Interim Superintendent Iran Floyd, School Board President Jill Duttlinger, who delivered the diploma to the students, Spagna and the assistant principals. Occasionally, a school board member would step up to give a diploma to one of the graduates and to shake hands with them before their names were called.

As the graduates walked off the stage, they were congratulated by the future seniors with a carnation, red for the ladies and white for the men. As they headed back to their seats, they were congratulated by Class President Griffey and Vice President Villalpando before being seated again. Once Floyd pronounced them official graduates of KVHS, the seniors flipped their mortarboards into the air as the crowd stood, cheered and applauded. The band took up the recessional song, and the seniors walked out of the gym, some for the last time.