Seniors from the Perry High School Class of 2016 were welcomed to the Perry Bible Church Sunday evening for the annual Baccalaureate service.
Pastor Charles Compton welcomed those attending and led all in an opening prayer. A hymn was sung, with former Perry graduate Gabe Saemisch introducing the first guest speaker, Perry athletic standout Kane Seeley.
“I grew up with Kane and played sports with him, and that meant coming in second in everything I did,” he joked. “However, as you will find out, there is much more to Kane than sports.”
Seeley, a three-year letter-winning linebacker at Iowa State University, noted he had graduated early and was now in post-graduate studies. A two-time state champion wrestler, he explained his wrestling days were over, and that, in a matter of months, his football career would also be ending.
“Athletics has been important to me, but academics have been, too,” he told the graduates. “However, the most important thing in my life is my faith.”
He challenged the seniors “not to give in to the distractions you are going to face — and there will be many” and urged them to lead a devoted, Christian life.
Dr. Randy McCaulley led the gathering in a song, after which Mike and Shari Garber spoke of the graduates assembled and of their dedication to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which the Garbers serve as leaders of the local chapter. They invited the seniors forward, with the students sharing their future plasn.
Saemisch then returned to the microphone. He played football at Luther College and graduated earlier Sunday, making the lengthy drive from Decorah to arrive in time for the ceremony. He introduced keynote speaker Chris Norton, also a former Luther College footballer, who was partially paralyzed while making a tackle as a freshman.
Norton spoke of his injury and told his listeners he had spent 129 days in the Mayo Clinic and another 98 at the Ronald McDonald House after being injured Oct. 16, 2010.
“The doctors told me I had only a three percent chance of ever having feeling below the neck again,” Norton said. “The next day, I could wiggle my left arm a bit. Not much, but it was something, and it gave me hope. I refused to accept that I would never stand again, and I was able, with help, to walk across the stage last year and receive my degree.”
Told he may never walk again, Norton said he decided that through faith and hard work that he would “rise up” and overcome his challenges. Through thousands of hours of therapy, and with a fierce dedication, Norton has limited use of his arms and has been able to stand for several minutes at a time.
“You are going to get knocked down — there are going to be hard times,” Norton warned the students. “What is most important is that you get back up, and it is important to know how to get back up and where to find the strength to do it. Where you find that strength is God, and God will be with you everywhere you go.”
A video clip showing the play on which he was injured and highlighting his return to the field as honorary captain one year later was shown.
“Do not doubt that you can do what you set out to do,” he urged the seniors. “Hard work will take you far, but so will faith. My faith is what has inspired me and what has given me the strength to be where I am now.”
Norton’s presentation was followed by a hymn and closing prayer, after which graduates, family and friends spent time visiting over refreshments.
The 142 graduates of the Perry High School Class of 2016 will receive their diplomas Sunday in a commencement ceremony beginning at 2 p.m. in the PHS gym.
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