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Chelsea High Celebrates Class of ‘23 in Graduation Send-Off (with slideshow)

Photo by Randall Lee, RK Studios. A scene from Sunday’s Class of 2023 high school graduation.

Story by Sonja Schemahorn, Chelsea High School Bleu Print editor

The class of 2023 graduated from Chelsea High School Sunday, June 4, at the Jerry Niehaus Field. With this finality comes new emotions for everyone involved.

As these newly graduated adults head off to college, they take with them great memories and leave knowing they’ve inspired underclassmen to strive for excellence.

Photo by Randall Lee, RK Studios. Another scene from Sunday’s graduation.

“Students have had the same routine for the last 13 years of their lives,” CHS Principal Dr. Nicholas Angel said. “When the routine is gone, it evokes all different kinds of feelings and emotions, both exciting and scary for kids. I think they really enjoy coming back for the finale and being part of the culmination of their commencement activities.”

Angel recently became the CHS principal in the 2021–2022 school year after having served as a middle school principal for 11 years. He said that he has had a very unique bond with this class and has been honored to have worked with them.

“Most of these students I have had for seven years, so I represented that in my graduation speech,” Angel said. “The kids that walked on the NASCAR track as sixth and seventh graders are now young men and women graduating, going on to college and into postsecondary opportunities, and just doing bigger, better things.”

Elected by their class, student speakers Peter Mourad (’23) and Phoebe Harris (‘23) shared their personal interpretation of graduating and all the feelings that come with it. Both have not only been heavily involved in CHS’s vibrant community but also have worked hard, like many of their peers, to achieve their goals.

Both will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall, where they will most definitely take their Bulldog pride with them.

“Graduating is a mix of emotions, for sure,” Mourad said. “I’m going to miss a lot of things, especially seeing all my Chelsea friends every day. But, I’m also glad, and I’m excited to move on. I think the future holds exciting prospects.”

As this Bulldog looks to the future, Mourad recognizes how high school has prepared him for the challenging classes he will take as a natural science major and piano minor.

“I think high school has really helped me grow as a person, both socially and academically, of course,” Mourad said. “I’m really grateful for all the support that the school district has given me and all the opportunities that I’ve been able to take part in. I think CHS has prepared me well; I’ve heard from a number of people that everyone who goes into college from Chelsea feels super prepared and that they’re ready to blow away their first year in college.”

Photo by Crystal Hayduk.
Caption: (Left to right) Megan Hayduk, CHS Class of 2023, with Sonja Schemahorn, sophomore. The two violinists have been friends, classmates in the symphony orchestra, and cadet teachers for the BMS Fiddle Club for two years.

When deciding what his next steps are, Mouard recognizes all the people who have inspired and encouraged him to pursue his musical and academic pursuits.

During his time here at CHS, he was heavily involved in the orchestra program, performing with ensembles playing the violin. He also participated in national piano competitions. In addition to his love for music, he took many rigorous courses within the science realm, such as AP Biology and AP Chemistry.

“My private piano teacher [Lester Castellana] and the music program here at Chelsea definitely inspired me to pursue a music minor,” Mourad said. “I’ve also taken all the AP science courses, which let me explore different fields and get a taste for research.”

As these seniors are heading off to college, they will be taking with them wonderful memories. Many attended Friday night games under the lights, caught up with friends in the commons, and many made friends with underclassmen.

“My favorite memories were from being on the tennis team,” Mourad said. “Especially going to the states, where we would all get a hotel together, and then we would play the next morning. So that was fun team bonding. Fun classes like Mr. Swager’s class come to mind, and Mr. Pedlow’s class as well.”

While Harris is going to miss her peers, she looks forward to her next big adventure. During her time at CHS, she was a major contributor and leader of the Chelsea Orchestra program, where she played cello. She also sewed costumes for the CHS Theatre Guild and took various art classes where she expressed her love for drawing and sculpting.

“I’m obviously scared and stressed [about graduating], but I’m excited to go to college,” Harris said. “I was accepted into the Penny Stamps School of Art Design and am really, really excited about diving into that.”

Since a very young age, art has always been a major part of her life. Harris works on commission, creating portraits, while also making many unique pieces with both functionality and interpretation when sewing in her free time. She hopes to continue to pursue her love for fashion and sewing.

“I’ve always been an artist,” Harris said. “My mom taught me how to sew when I was three, so I’ve always been inspired to do art. I didn’t always want to go to art school, but my past experiences made me want to do more art classes in high school.”

Teachers have spent a lot of time with these soon-to-be college students. Over the course of a student’s career, teachers make a major impact on their worldview every day. Harris recognizes one teacher specifically who has helped her grow into the person she is today.

“Mrs. Popovich is just the sweetest,” Harris said. “I love her, and she’s helped me so much with the application process, making my portfolio, and writing artist statements. She was really helpful, and she’s like a mother to all students—she is so wonderful.”

While staff change students’ lives every day, many feel that these students reciprocate with the same impact. Angel’s favorite memories for this class include sixth grade camp and the Washington, D.C., trip.

“This was the last group to have had a traditional Washington, D.C., trip, before the pandemic, Angel said. “That’s really special to me—successes on the athletic fields and courts, in the music halls. This class has set a really high bar for us.”

Photo by Randy Lee, RK Studios.

This class has contributed to the Chelsea community in very unique ways as reflected in Angel’s speech. From winning state championships in finance competition, to successes within the water polo team, 80 percent of students were either in a club, music program, or sport. Throughout the ceremony,  individuals, teams, and clubs, were recognized for their outstanding efforts and contribution. 

Mouard’s speech highlighted success brought by his fellow classmates from a student perspective. With many taking on advanced courses, students shared similar stresses and challenges, bringing them closer together.

“… All of your hard work has inspired me over our high school experience together,” Mourad said. “In fact, we’ve worked so hard that for the past trimester we’ve been enjoying some well-earned “senor-itis.’ Well … I’m here to tell you that that ends tonight. Mr. Swager has organized a 10K followed by a physics study session immediately after the ceremony, and I expect to see everyone there…”

He emphasized the importance of dreaming big while recognizing that you will fail at times along the way.

“…For example, as a class, we’ve dreamed for four years about winning the pep rally at least once,” Mourad said. “This year was our final chance, and we were poised for glory. But a ragtag bunch of sophomores stole it from under our noses. To their credit, they dreamed big, and their dreams came true. I guess the lesson here is that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey…”

Mourad, while remaining inspirational, included a humorous tone throughout the speech. 

“…If you’re going to be a tree, be the tallest tree in the forest,” Mourad explained. “If you’re going to be a river, be the longest river in the valley. And if you’re going to be a graduation speaker, don’t use the tired old cliche of the ‘tallest tree in the forest’…” 

Harris explored the problems in our society and how her fellow graduates could provide solutions. She shared her personal experiences and how they related to making changes and helping others.

“…What came before will always remain in the hearts and minds of those who were previously prioritized, and the vision for an equitable new society will become tainted by the contempt of people who were brought up under a system that gave them privileges and advantages over others,” Harris said.

Photo By Randall Lee, RK Studios.

She elaborated on how the world may not be perfect, but everyone has the power to make it better.

 “…I believe that despite the rather depressing picture I’ve just painted of the world we have to work with, progress can and absolutely should be made toward creating the world we wish we had. The root system may indeed be too thick, too deep, and too tangled to replace, but individual rootlets can be pruned away, and room can be made for healthier ones to take their places…”

Harris concluded her speech on a positive note.

“None of us needs to be the best at everything,” Harris shared. “None of us even needs to be the best at anything. As long as all of us can do something and be happy doing it, we’re all set.”

As the ceremony concluded, tassels were flipped and caps were thrown.

This day was made possible by staff and administration, who worked tirelessly all year to ensure this was a memorable event. Following the pandemic, many changes have been made to the ceremony including the use of the stadium as well as updated stage equipment.

Photo by Randy Lee, RK Studios.

“The stage that we used previously for activities wasn’t really large enough to accommodate in the same capacity that we wanted to be able to,” Angel explained. “Many of our students with mobility challenges are now able to access the stage, which I’m really excited about.”

Angel enjoyed hearing the students give their speeches and was excited to see the class escorts and staff participate during graduation. Students whose parents work for the school district had the unique opportunity to receive their diploma from them.

The evening was filled with wonderful weather, inspiring words, and many pictures.  

“I love the class of 2023,” Angel said. “It was really special for me; I felt that they embraced me personally as their principal. I have a non-traditional relationship with this class to some extent. They are a group of really heightened kids that are going to special places. I know that we’re graduating kids that are going to make this world a better place.”

Class of 2023:

Class Flower — Chrysanthemum

Class Motto — “United by our past, Celebrating the present.”

Class Song — Walking on a Dream by the Empire Sun

Faculty Escorts — Adam French, Valerie Johnson, Karen Kurcz, Tyler Santoro, Adam Schilt, Laura Woodruff

Class Advisor — Karen Kurcz 

Link to the graduation program: CHS High School Graduation Program

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