It didn't take long for one of Three Rivers HomeLink's salutatorians to bring many in the audience to tears.
Sage Zaugg was deeply affected by his 6-year-old brother Aidan's death from brain cancer in 2008. Confused and feeling lost, Sage learned about HomeLink and started there his seventh-grade year.
"I cannot express how incredibly and unbelievably thankful I am for this school," Sage said. "Through the friends I made and the amazing staff, I believe I began to heal faster than I would have at any other school."
Six students received their high school diplomas during HomeLink's ceremony at Richland's Southside Church, the same building that serves the parent-partnership program's almost 400 students.
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All six graduates have been at HomeLink since their middle school years, the longest any one class of graduates had been together in the program, said Principal Eric Sobotta.
He remarked on watching them grow up, noting that senior Sam Andrews always was stoic and that co-salutatorian Cheyenne Griffith is a past Washington Aerospace Scholar and amazing baton twirler.
School counselor Johanna Davis said the graduates are heroes, overcoming their own challenges and excelling. Each has been accepted to a college or other higher education program.
"I, for one, am glad to have been part of their hero story," Davis said.
HomeLink was a place to live life, said valedictorian Katie Swanson. Now it's time to go out into the world.
"Whether you are going off to become the next president or working at McDonald's, you still have the gift of being able to live life and that is a precious gift," she said.