WHEELER | The focus of high school graduations normally is the senior class, but a speaker stole the show Sunday at the 2014 Wheeler High School commencement.

As her last gift to her students, retiring English teacher Paula Rukavina sang her version of "Thanks for the Memories," but not before she urged the graduates to embark on their next “breathtaking adventure” and to “seize the day.”

“Thank you, Wheeler High School, for some of the best memories of my life,” said Rukavina to a standing ovation before the end of her speech. “You are what makes teaching the most rewarding profession in the world.”

Principal Don Gandy opened the ceremony by congratulating the class.

“I’m very proud of you and your academic and athletic accomplishments,” he said. “Very well done.”

Gandy paused to take a cellphone photo of himself, Rukavina and the other commencement speaker, teacher Marc Bruner, for what he dubbed “the second annual Selfie Sunday.”

“This is going on Instagram, everyone,” Gandy said.

Senior class president and summa cum laude Jacob Bertucci said although “today, in the eyes of the world, we become adults, the graduates should be like children, who are curious, helpful, and loving.

“Children know what makes them happy,” said Bertucci. “They pursue what makes them happy.”

Graduate Liz Phelps, who will double-major in dental hygiene and social work at Indiana University Northwest, will miss being a student mentor.

“It seems like just yesterday I was a freshman,” Phelps said. “I’m going to miss all the bonds I formed with underclassmen.”

Randy and Debbie Phelps are “overwhelmingly proud” of their daughter.

“For me, this is super emotional,” said Debbie Phelps, her voice cracking. “She’s a very social person, and the career choice she’s making will go very well with that.”

James Mills will head to Calumet College of St. Joseph on track and cross country scholarships.

“It went by way too fast,” he said. “I’m going to miss the running program; my coaches taught me a lot and I made lots of friends. That meant a lot to me.”

Alyssa Miiller has a head start on her college studies, which she’ll pursue at Vincennes University. She plans to become a sign language interpreter, and she’s been learning to sign at the Kouts library.

“My dad is learning with me so we can talk to each other when I come home from college,” Miiller said.

It was difficult for Samantha Perrott to tear herself away from student teaching this year.

“I cried when I left my third-graders at South Haven Elementary School,” she said. “This hasn’t hit me yet; it won’t until the fall, when I’m not coming back to high school.”

Miiller reflected on the dichotomy that is commencement.

“When you’re a freshman, you can’t wait to get out of high school,” she said. “Then, once graduation is here, you want to go back.”