Kindness, opportunities await Suring grads

Class of 2024 heads into its next adventure
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

Cherished memories and hopes for the future took center stage May 29 as the Suring High School class of 2024 was honored during commencement exercises in the high school gymnasium.

“Education is the key to unlocking the future, but it is also the foundation upon which you will continue to build your dreams,” Principal Ben Kessler said in his welcoming remarks to the graduating seniors with their friends and family looking on. “Throughout your time here, you have not only acquired knowledge but also learned the values of empathy, integrity and perseverance. These are the qualities that will guide you as you step into the world beyond these walls.”

Kessler quoted Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” in encouraging the grads to make a positive impact wherever life takes them.

“The world you are entertaining is filled with unprecedented challenges and opportunities,” he said. “Technological achievements, global interconnectiveness, and social changes are reaching into society at a rapid pace. However, I have no doubt that you are well-equipped to face these challenges head-on.”

He reminded the class that success lies in the difference they make in lives of others.

“I challenge you to be fearless in your pursuits of passion, embrace curiosity, cherish diversity, and always seek to learn and grow,” Kessler said. “The road ahead might not always be smooth, but remember that every obstacle is an opportunity to rise above and every failure is a stepping stone to success.”

Superintendent Paul Orlick announced the newest members of the Suring Alumni Hall of Fame.

Longtime Oconto County Technology Services Director Wayne Sleeter served 21 years on the Suring School Board, including seven years as president, before his sudden death on Christmas Eve 2024.

“Wayne was a proud pillar of the Suring community,” Orlick said. “He led with integrity, honesty, and was dedicated to making the district a better place for students, for staff and for the community.”

The other inductee, Walter Rakow of the class of 1975, serve more than 30 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 2007 as a command sergeant major, and has served another 17 years at with the 181st Infantry Brigade at Fort McCoy as a Department of Defense civilian responsible for training and support of Army Reserve and National Guard units and soldiers. He currently is deputy operations officer at the fort.

Rakow’s sister Beth Rizk accepted on behalf of her ailing brother, who she said was too weak to travel.

“He is humbled that of all the many successful graduates that have walked the stage of Suring High, you have chosen to honor him,” Rizk said, thanking his teachers and mentors. “Remember, class, even people from a small town like Suring can make a difference in this world.”

Salutatorian Hailey VanRens shared memories of the last 14 years together, and said while they are now going their separate ways, they will always hold memories that made them who they were are today.

“Thank you to the teachers, the people who believed in us when we didn’t even believe in ourselves, the people who pushed us past our limits and made us see what we could truly do,” VanRens said. “They were and continue to be our mentors who through their guidance and wisdom shaped our minds … The teachers here are more than just teachers, they’re our family, and we will always hold the life lessons they taught us close to our hearts.”

Valedictorian Bailey Stuart encouraged her classmates to embrace small acts of kindness in all they do.

“Everyone faces failures, obstacles or challenges. However, at the end of the day, we are our own biggest enemy. We must appreciate the blessings, the rewarding aspects, and even the little things that can get us through the day,” Stuart said. “Live every day with hope that even through the struggles, there’s that rainbow that comes after the storm.”

She said to reach back to find the confidence and power of their childhood dreams.

“You are the only one who can allow yourself to keep going,” Stuart said. “You are the only one that can achieve your own goals and more.”

The seniors voted to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of Miss Kathy Runge, a middle school teacher and member of the Suring class of 1985 for the impact she had on their lives.

“I know you guys are all going to do some great things, and I look forward to seeing what you do,” Runge told her former charges. “Be kind, go out in the world and just accomplish everything you can.”