COLUMBUS — The "best class" in Lakeview High School history graduated Sunday.
At least that’s how Justin Gonka collectively described himself and the 49 other students who received their diplomas during the school’s 44th commencement.
Gonka delivered the welcome during the graduation ceremony, reintroducing the crowd of family, friends and district staff members gathered in the high school gymnasium to the “top dogs,” the “best of the best.” Or as they will be forever known, the Lakeview Class of 2013.
Gonka set the tone for a parting event filled with laughs, tears and a few technical difficulties by instructing his fellow seniors to give each other a hug and remember their classmates’ faces.
“Because next time you see them it may be at a high school reunion or on TV as the president of the United States or the next star of ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,’” he said.
The joke exemplified the lightheartedness of a close-knit group that chose to wear Hawaiian leis over their blue and white robes.
There have been good times and bad times over their years together and they’ve made new friends and even more memories, Gonka told his classmates before offering a final piece of advice.
“It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s all about where you’re going, no matter where you’ve been.”
And keynote speaker Jim Pillen believes the 50 Lakeview graduates can go anywhere.
He encouraged them to never stop pursuing their dreams and to work every day to make themselves a better person.
“Your future is whatever you want to make it,” said Pillen, who was elected to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents last year and is president of Pillen Family Farms and a managing partner with Danbred North America.
The 1974 Lakeview High School graduate and former Husker football player also urged the graduates to take time to thank the people who impacted them over the past four years.
A special recognition went to all the moms in the audience on Mother’s Day because, Pillen said, their job is the most significant.
“There is nothing more important than the love and grace that you give to your children,” he said.
After sharing a few memories from his time at Lakeview — such as sodding the football field and defeating Schuyler in front of a full-house crowd to secure the school’s first state tournament berth in basketball — Pillen told the outgoing seniors to always remember the years they spent there.
“These hallways and these buildings shape you. They shape you in ways that you aren’t going to be able to comprehend today, but trust me, 39 years later they still do,” said Pillen, who, with the help of music instructor Jill Goedeken, led the crowd in a rendition of the Lakeview fight song before exiting the stage.
Graduate Carol Crabtree also had some memories to share during the senior farewell — cheering at football games, watching the teachers do the “Chicken Dance” and seeing the high school parking lot filled with tractors for one day each year.
She told the Class of 2013 to remember these special moments, their friendships and the people who supported them over the years. They also need to remember the difficult and frustrating times, she said.
“If we didn’t struggle and learn to get through the issues, the drama and the conflicts we’d have a rude awakening when it happens later on in life, which it most certainly will,” Crabtree said.
Crabtree ended her farewell by sharing the same words then-senior Dane Miller spoke to his fellow Lakeview graduates two years ago.
“It’s been a good year Class of 2013, a good four years,” she said, “and I think the tassel was worth the hassle.”