Indian River’s 2015 graduates depart as a class act

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Indian River High School graduate Luis Alonzo Cruz is congratulated by Indian River School District Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting. At left offering congratulations is Michelle Freeman, keynote speaker for the May 27 commencement.

DAGSBORO – Freshmen through senior years at Indian River High School for the Class of 2015 were punctuated by success – sometimes with championship exclamation points.

As freshmen, the Class of 2015 celebrated a state championship in football under the tutelage of Ray Steele – Indian River’s beloved coach, teacher and administrator whose commencement night reward saluting his 39 years in education was the privilege to call from the podium the names of the 196 IRHS graduates to receive in-person their diplomas.

Several years after gridiron fame, Indian River celebrated a state title in boys’ soccer.

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Indian River graduate Gabriella Castillo is all smiles as she leaves the stage with her diploma.

For Class President Avery McCormick, high school at Indian River was also a time of personal growth and discovery.

“Four years ago I didn’t think I’d be on this stage. I didn’t think that I would have run for (class) president. I didn’t think that I’d get voted prom king …,” said Avery, one of three student speakers at Wednesday night’s graduation ceremony. “High school doesn’t always begin the way that some us imagine it to, but it also doesn’t end the same way either.”

“The Class of 2015 is more than a handful of athletes. We have All-State band members; students attending schools such as Princeton …,” Avery said. “Indian River was not only a place for us to grow and learn the skills needed to succeed in whatever it is that we do but a place where for over the past four years we have discovered who we truly are. Class of 2015, you are the real MVP. Sometimes life is sour like a lemon is but sometimes it’s lucky like a 7 is. Always remember where you came from because our time here at Indian River was not the education that we needed but the one that we deserved.”

Indian River High School Principal Bennett Murray labeled the Class of 2015 “special” from the time they entered high school as freshmen to their exit as graduates.

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Indian River High School Class of 2015 Valedictorian Sarah Buchler and Salutatorian David Chan are both bound for the University of Delaware.

More than eight out of 10 graduates plan to pursue post-secondary education – 85 of those bound for the University of Delaware or Delaware Technical Community College.

The Class of 2015’s incredible diversity, Mr. Murray said, includes college destinations such as the University of Alabama, Georgia Tech, Colorado State, Pitt, Ohio State, Penn State, West Virginia, Tennessee as well as arts schools and Ivy League’s Princeton.

Five percent of graduates will enter the military and about 15 percent plan to immediately enter the workforce.

“What a group of young adults we have this evening,” said Mr. Murray. “And we are proud of each and every one of you.”

Class Salutatorian David Chan encouraged classmates to not be afraid of fear.

“Today, at the height of our high school achievement I am probably not the only one who feels excited, anxious and proud. But I have to admit, I am afraid. I am afraid of what is next, the choices I have to make … and what lies beyond college,” said David, who plans to major in computer engineering at the University of Delaware.

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Tashaila Holland snaps a “selfie” with classmate Sarah Wylie prior to Indian River High School’s graduation.

His advice: “Make fear your ally not your adversary. In other words, utilize your fears as a tool for success … if you know what you are afraid of then create a goal that counteracts the fear beforehand.”

Valedictorian Sarah Buchler, bound for the University of Delaware where she’ll major in elementary education, offered a few lessons to classmates.

“As you move forward from today no matter where your life will take you, you must strive to work your hardest and give your best effort so that you never disappoint yourself,” Sarah said. “At the end of the day the person you must answer to is the person that you see looking back at you in the mirror.”

In emphasizing this, she referred to that day in Mr. Steele’s Pre-Calculus class when she and the rest of the class almost immediately gave up on a logic problem, instead opting to catch up on gossip, who was dating whom, and discuss what form of chicken might be on the lunch menu.

“(Mr. Steele) could not believe we would quit,” Sarah said. “At that moment I realized that I disappointed someone whose opinion I value because of my lack of effort. Not only did I disappoint Mr. Steele I disappointed myself.”

Sarah’s second lesson: Find something that you love and pursue it. Again, she made reference to Mr. Steele, who left the classroom for administration, only to return to the classroom.

“This goes to show how much passion he has for actually teaching his students,” said Sarah.

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Michelle Freeman, keynote speaker at Indian River High School’s graduation, gestures to the soon-to-be graduates during her inspirational speech.

Keynote speaker Michelle Freeman shared chapters of her life story, from addiction and the food stamp world to Carl M. Freeman Foundation President/CEO and land development/professional sports team ownership, and chairwoman of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation – formed in tribute to her husband Joshua who died in a 2006 helicopter crash.

“I faced and overcame an addiction … 27 years I’m still sober and drug and alcohol free,” said Ms. Freeman. “I was on food stamps at 26. At 30 I became a broker. I have stood before you all which is the most important thing, but also stood before kings and queens. Tonight you are more important than anyone.”

Ms. Freeman is a visionary in one of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation’s first programs – The Freeman Stage at Bayside. She is one of a dozen women with ownership ties to the National Basketball Association.

Her advice: Do not allow someone tell you that you can’t.

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Indian River High School Principal Bennett Murray congratulates Taite Daisey during diploma presentation.

“I am here to tell you that people will tell you that you can’t – whether you’re in the military, whether you are working, whether you’re at college. And you can. You can do whatever it is that you set your mind to,” said Ms. Freeman, noting that someone else once said “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“I want to say to you that the most important moment is the one you are living today – right now, this second. You can never change it. You can never go back to it. And once it’s gone it’s gone forever,” said Ms. Freeman. “So recently I traveled to Nepal. I got back five days before the earthquake. I stood in front of great temples that had been there for thousands of years. And I took pictures. And now those temples are no longer there. I would never experience that moment the way I did right then.”

“So tonight when you look around and you see your family, and you see your friend next to you, and the teachers that have taught you over these years, know that this moment is yours to enjoy but it will never be again, so honor it,” Ms. Freeman said. “Know that every moment led to this moment.”

Speaking to the class was something special, given the many family ties, Ms. Freeman said.

“So I watched your parents get you ready and tonight feels like the end of something, and truly it’s your beginning,” Ms. Freeman said. “They have done all of the work to get you to here, and now you’re ready.”

IRHSAA PRIDE: During the ceremony, Mr. Murray announced the three IRHS graduates who are recipients of the Indian River High School Alumni Association’s $1,000 PRIDE scholarships: Gabriella Castillo, Alison Jennings and Avery McCormick.

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Together for the last time as Indian River High School seniors, from left, Zach Turcol, Kenny Rishel, Andrew Foreman, Joey Fitzpatrick, Kei Juan Major, Egbert Perez and Onshea Chandler.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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