COLUMBIA — Luam Ghirmazion, dressed in purple robes and a gold-tasseled mortarboard, smiled for picture after picture. Her family, an entourage numbering about three dozen, gathered around her.
As they chattered congratulations, the family embraced a second set of purple robes. It was Megan Geiger, Ghirmazion’s best friend since they met in Jefferson Junior High. The two now hope to go to college together in Houston.
About 600 graduates ended their three years at Hickman with lasting friendships, enthusiastic ambitions and a high school diploma.
Principal Michael Jeffers praised the class of 2010 on Saturday morning at the commencement ceremony in the Mizzou Arena.
“Hickman had a very successful year due to the outstanding talents of our senior class,” Jeffers said.
Jeffers cited student excellence in sports, arts, service and academic honors, adding that the seniors amassed $8 million in scholarships, grants and financial awards.
The class of 2010 also faced challenges, some more striking than others. The death of senior Denisha Midgyett felt especially poignant, guidance counselor Susan McWilliams said.
“Some challenges are economic,” McWilliams said. “More students will utilize the A+ program, and we’ve seen more kids looking for jobs and not finding them.”
Family members, some of them having attended multiple commencement ceremonies in the past couple weeks, offered support to the students.
“I’m glad to see all the kids graduate because I know it’s not easy,” said David Banks, whose niece Loretta Sams was graduating.
As of Wednesday morning, 605 seniors were eligible to graduate, though counselors received hourly reports about students on the edge of qualifying, what counselor McWilliams graciously called “the bubble.”
Parents new to the district were struck by the large class size. Zac Brzuchalski’s family moved two years ago to Columbia from Slater, where graduating classes averaged about 50 people.
“This is much bigger than what we’re used to,” his mother, Joy Brzuchalski, said.
Graduate Billy Borgmeyer considers Hickman’s size beneficial. Interacting with private school students at the Missouri Fine Arts Academy helped him realize Hickman’s strength in diversity.
“I’ve received the same level of education and have experienced more of the real world,” he said.
Borgmeyer was among the 45 senior choir members who sang for a final time under the direction of Matt Felts.
Citing Felts and band director Rob Nichols as major influences in his creative pursuits, Borgmeyer said he appreciates the way all Hickman teachers push students toward excellence.
“It’s always been highly expected that we succeed,” Borgmeyer said. “We got eighth place once, and everyone was devastated.”
In addition to the fine arts, Borgmeyer ran the student government website, served on the Voluntary Action Center’s board of directors, and participated in musical performances. He would like to major in biochemistry and music at MU.
“Hopefully I can continue to wear different hats at Mizzou,” he said
Not unlike Borgmeyer, Pari Jafari is considering two seemingly disparate majors, history and biology, at MU. One of Hickman’s two valedictorians, Jafari attributed her academic success to teachers like Kyle Clower and Diana Rahm.
“They helped teach the relationship between history and language,” she said. “That’s one of the big reasons I’m interested in history going in college.”
Experiences with Jan Haffey’s honors anatomy and physiology class encouraged her interest in biology. Jafari still recalls her first dissection.
“I wasn’t mentally ready to cut something open,” she said. “She presented anatomy more as art than something gory. She really works you through it, and you get to honestly understand every part that you end up dissecting and looking at.”
The academy, she said, helped her realize how much Hickman offers.
“At Hickman we have the opportunity to experience different backgrounds and arrays of thought,” Jafari said. “Being around others who didn’t have that opportunity was a broadening experience.”
For many students, future plans revolved around more than what college they've decided on or what major they're interested in.
Jessica Carter found her fiance’s family after navigating through the dense crowd.
“This is my adopted daughter,” said Robin Jones, Carter’s future mother-in-law.
Carter hopes to marry Jesse Jones, who graduated high school last year, after she finishes the music program at Central Methodist University.
Twin brothers Timothy and Patrick Hall have plans to join the Navy. As the two posed for pictures, their brother, Ben Kunkler, joked about the twins graduating.
“It’s a miracle,” he said.
After trying out in front of a panel of faculty and students, two seniors were chosen to speak at commencement: Gloria Sipakati and Amy Wisniewski. Both reflected on common themes of relationships.
Sipakati asked her fellow students to introduce themselves to the people beside them. She said her closest friendship started with an introduction on the last day of junior high.
“It’s hard to get to know everyone in such a big class,” Sipakati said. “But they’ve become family.”