Bill Sommers, director at Learning Alternatives Community Schools, headed his last Learner Celebration ceremony at Spring Lake Park District 16’s Fine Arts Center.
“You’re not going anywhere,” a student, who, evidently, wanted him to stay on, yelled from the audience.
Families, friends and fellow students gathered to celebrate accomplishments of the school’s students May 30 in the district’s Fine Arts Center auditorium.
“A leader is a role model in and out of the classroom,” Sommers said in his opening remarks. “A true leader shows the way.”
David Walker received the 2012 Award for Outstanding Leadership. Walker was selected as a graduate speaker for the ceremony and for commencement exercises that followed later in the week.
He told the story of a boy who attended six high schools in the past four years. He spoke about a boy who lost hope. His friends telling him that he’d never make it. Until he came to LACS, that is.
With the positive support he received at the school, the boy started pushing himself and working beyond his self-imposed limitations. Instead of not graduating as he had first believed, he graduated early. The boy he spoke of was, of course Walker, himself.
“This whole school is like another family to me,” Walker said.
He further urged students to give back what they have been given, he said.
Among those students receiving overall achievement and leadership awards were:
David Walker and Jonisha Gilmore-Smith, leadership; Ramir Mooney, academic excellence; and Kalie Kapaun, service learning and outreach award.
Scholarship recipients are Kiel Watson, Creating Community, Anoka County Community Action Program; Lakia Thomas and Tiffany Overby, Spring Lake Park Lions; and Jonisha Gilmore-Smith and Nicole Jones, Kopp Family Foundation. Scholarships were in the amount of $500.
Sprinkled amid the awards were students who gave speeches.
“I’ve never seen such a wonderful school in my life,” graduate speaker Andy Johnson said.
Johnson quoted Britain’s late Prime Minister Winston Churchill, telling students to “never, never, never give up,” he said.
Kathy Sylvester, family and consumer sciences teacher at LACS, said a few heartfelt words. Sylvester will not be returning to the school next year because of a decline in enrollment numbers in her elective course.
“You guys mean the world to me,” she said.
Sylvester and other departing staff were honored, including Hank Taxis, dean; Sommers; Kim Spaeth, attendance coordinator; and Erin Richter, counselor.
In the waning moments of the celebration and Sommers’ tenure at LACS, Sommers offered his students a few more pearls of wisdom with a quote from Ray Kroc, who purchased and oversaw worldwide expansion of McDonalds restaurants. “Persistence is the only thing that counts,” he said. “When you think it’s over, you’ve got to try one more time.”
Sommers ended the celebration with a power-of-the-mind experiment. He handed out a metal washer strung with a piece of yarn to students in the audience. He encouraged them to hold the string about 12 inches in front of them and to still the dangling washer. Close your eyes, he told them, and try to move the washer with your mind, he said. The students obliged.
“No matter what you do, if you put your mind to it, it can happen,” he said in his final words of encouragement. “God bless you and namaste.”
Namaste is an India salutation spoken on greeting and departing. Its translation is “I bow to you.”
A cake and punch reception on the stage followed the celebration.
Sommers retires from LACS after an extensive career in leading schools mostly in the Twin Cities area. He does not plan to fully retire. Among his many accomplishments, he is an author and national keynote speaker on education.
Jeffrey Theis has been selected as the new LACS director. Theis comes to District 16 after serving as principal at the learning alternatives school at Carver Scott Educational Cooperative District 930 based out of Chaska.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]