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Published: Sunday, 6/11/2006

Class of '06 signs off: 3 graduates, families grapple with joy, sadness - and chaos - on the big day

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Grant Maxey, with his girlfriend, LaTrina Moore, bids farewell to Scott High School during Monday's commencement. He will attend Jackson State University in Mississippi. Grant Maxey, with his girlfriend, LaTrina Moore, bids farewell to Scott High School during Monday's commencement. He will attend Jackson State University in Mississippi.
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Grant Maxey, wearing sweat pants and yawning, downed five pancakes while nearly a dozen family members ran around the house.

Jenny Kuhn played with the family Goldendoodle and sarcastically asked her mother if she'd be wearing her slippers to the ceremony.

And Taylor Blanchard promised herself she wouldn't cry - a promise she couldn't keep.

Hours before their high school graduation, three very different seniors from three very different schools all had the same thoughts: relief, joy, and some sadness. Four years of high school culminated in commencements for students at Scott, Perrysburg, and Whitmer.

Each senior was calm yet overjoyed.

Family members, on the other hand, ran around almost in chaos: getting ready, looking for tickets, and trying to get the video camera working.

"I'm going to miss everything," Jenny said on her way to the ceremony for Perrysburg High School graduates. "I'm going to miss my family, but I'm really excited to meet new people."

Parents had the same strong feelings on the day of commencement. They shared hugs, cried a little, took lots of pictures, and when it was all over, some purchased overpriced balloons and stuffed teddy bears wearing mortarboards with tiny tassels.

Grant Maxey was well-known at Toledo's Scott High School even though he only started at the school his senior year.

"Basketball has made me kind of popular I guess," he said. "I'm just looking forward to being done and then going on to college to try and make it to the next level."

His next step is Jackson State University in Mississippi, where he received a full basketball scholarship.

Grant's uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandfather all made long road trips that week for his commencement day. The 6-foot-6 graduate sits on the couch with a plate of pancakes, watching his mother, Michelle Maxey, direct the flow of people.

Thirteen people total met at the Stranahan Theater to see Grant, 18, graduate. "I expect it to be long, and a lot of waiting, but that's what you do to get your diploma on this day," Grant said.

Grant ate another pancake as his uncle, John Harris, still in pajamas, talked about how proud he is of his nephew.

"This is monumental. It's worth celebrating," said Mr. Harris, who drove 12 hours the previous day from his home in Lincoln, Neb., for the occasion. "Grant needs to know that he is not by himself. He is part of a great legacy of education in our family."

Scott graduates started gathering in a back room at the Stranahan hours before the 2 p.m. ceremony Monday. One girl yelled to several friends and anyone else in earshot. Grant spotted a buddy wearing "2006" novelty glasses.

In the lobby, parents made their way into the building.

"Please tell me Grant is not wearing those glasses," Ms. Maxey said.

Traditionally, Scott's graduation ceremony is marked by a lot of energy and constant cheering. Even the students on stage stood up and cheered during times when most other schools follow tight decorum.

Unlike many of his classmates, Grant is going away to college.

"Of course I will miss him," Ms. Maxey said. "But my family has always been into him getting out there, and he has always had that aspiration of getting out on his own."

She added, "I think that's very important, especially for an 18-year-old male."

Grant's name was called and he made his way across the stage with a huge smile. His family, who occupied an entire section in the balcony, jumped to their feet and cheered.

Jenny Kuhn said her four years at Perrysburg High School seemed to fly by.

She fiddled with her tassel at the kitchen counter and tried on her cap while her parents took some pictures and then got ready to leave for the ceremony - which, like many Toledo-area graduations - was at the Stranahan.

Jenny Kuhn tries on her cap for her 25-year-old sister, Jeana, before Perryburg High School's graduation on June 2. Jenny will attend Miami University in the fall. Jenny Kuhn tries on her cap for her 25-year-old sister, Jeana, before Perryburg High School's graduation on June 2. Jenny will attend Miami University in the fall.
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Her mother, Joanie Kuhn, admitted the occasion would be pretty low-key.

"She is our third one graduating," Mrs. Kuhn said.

Like many of her classmates, Jenny will be going away to school in the fall.

"I'm really excited about college, but I still have to figure out what I am going to do," she said, adding that law school is a likely possibility.

Jenny was accepted to Miami University of Ohio in November and struggled for the next six months with "senioritis" - a symptom of students' complacency once they have been accepted by a college.

"Yeah, I got hit with that hard," she said. "One of my teachers said the worst thing that happened to you was getting into Miami University."

Just before the ceremony, the class of 2006 started lining up behind the Stranahan. Many of the girls hugged each other while the boys yelled out each other's last names. There were lots of high-fives.

Inside, some parents already were starting to wipe tears from their eyes.

Like Jenny's high school years, the two-hour ceremony on June 2 seemed to fly by.

"Except for the part where they announced all the scholarships. That was very lengthy," she said. "We were mostly talking during that. Some of the girls were afraid of tripping when we went to get the diplomas."

Most of the graduates, Jenny added, couldn't believe it would all soon be over.

Before the recessional even began, nearly a hundred students pulled out the cigars they would smoke outside - a tradition for Perrysburg graduates.

Outside, the caps fell to the ground and there was thunderous applause. Almost immediately, puffs of smoke started rising from the crowd of new graduates.

"Someone had an extra cigar and I started smoking it," she said. "I took two puffs and it was disgusting, but I had to do it for tradition."

Taylor Blanchard tried unsuccessfully not to giggle at her father as he tried to get the video camera to stop beeping and start working.

"They have almost every event of mine, every football game, every performance, all on video," Taylor said.

Taylor Blanchard climbs into her new Jeep Liberty before driving to Whitmer High School's ceremony on June 3. Taylor Blanchard climbs into her new Jeep Liberty before driving to Whitmer High School's ceremony on June 3.
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The 18-year-old Whitmer High School graduate crammed as many activities as possible into her four years at the school in the Washington Local School District, including choir, marching band, and theater.

"We are very happy for her, she has a lot going for her," Tim Blanchard said of his daughter. "But it's also sad because she's been so active and we've been a part of that too."

Taylor, who was elated about the new Jeep Liberty her parents gave her for graduation, said the end of high school won't sink in for some time.

"I don't think it will hit me that it's over until I open the door to a college classroom and know nobody," she said.

Taylor said she will likely attend the University of Toledo but is still considering starting at Owens Community College before going on to finish at a four-year institution.

As Taylor chatted about high school, her dad was still fixated on the video camera.

"Stupid thing," he said. "I may have to run out to Wal-Mart."

Taylor then added that she wanted the June 3 ceremony at the SeaGate Convention Centre to be memorable.

"I really wish someone would trip," she said with a giggle.

At that, Mr. Blanchard looked up from the still beeping camera. "Oh my God, Taylor. How embarrassing would that be for that person?" he said.

Just before leaving their West Toledo home for the ceremony, Taylor declared that she would not cry.

After the ceremony, when nearly a dozen family members gathered at the Fricker's restaurant in Toledo's Warehouse District, Taylor admitted she did not live up to her declaration.

"I couldn't help it," she said. "When we were singing in the choir, I just started to cry. I can't believe it's over."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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