Special surprise for one Eastland graduate on Sunday

LANARK — Katlyn Spong experienced the gamut of emotion on Sunday when she waited on the stage at Eastland High School to receive her diploma.

“I was shocked and confused as to why no one was giving me my diploma. Then I saw my brother and I could not stop crying,” said Katlyn.

Katlyn’s brother Travis, an airman first class stationed in Japan, was hidden away behind the stage through a collaborative effort by Eastland Principal Monica Burkholder and some key members of the Spong family.

When Katlyn’s name was called she walked across the stage and nervously waited as Travis made his appearance in full dress uniform. He handed his sister her diploma and they immediately embraced and Katlyn began crying.

“I was so surprised,” Katlyn said. “I didn’t know what was happening at first. I can’t believe it.”

That pleasant shock was echoed by the siblings’ mom, Kathy. “I had no idea. He’s stationed at Misawa Air Base in Japan so yeah, I was surprised too,” Kathy said.

Burkholder said she was contacted by Travis’ dad and step mom about a month ago asking if it would be possible to have Travis, a 2019 Eastland graduate, present Katlyn her diploma.

“We figured out where we could hide him and worked on a plan,” said Burkholder. “All it would have taken would have been for one person to see him and it would not have been a surprise. We had him come in Sunday morning to practice and it all worked out perfect.”

Travis arrived in Chicago on Friday and drove to Lanark on Saturday—making it 2 days he had to stay hidden in order for the surprise to work.

“This morning we had a rehearsal and had to be careful no one saw me,” he said smiling.

Katlyn was one 46 seniors who graduated on Sunday during the 45-minute ceremony in the high school gym.

Addison Burkholder was the salutatorian who gave her top 10 list of memories during her 13 years in the school district.

“I appreciate all the cherished memories we have made together. Truly the things that really stand out for me are the memories of my friends, classmates, teachers, and family. I wish you all nothing but the best in your future endeavors,” said to her classmates. “Don’t be afraid to live life to the fullest—you have one life so make it count. Continue to make memories and persevere through all obstacles life throws at you.”

Kellen Henze was the valedictorian.

“I can’t help but feel an overwhelming thankfulness for everything we have all been blessed with,” Henze said. “I am thankful for the community that has always supported us through thick and thin. They say it takes a village to raise a child and we all got very, very lucky with the village we were brought up in.”

He also thanked Eastland staff, parents, family, classmates, friends, and mentors who provided him an “amazing support system”.

“Dr. Seuss said it best when he said we ought to be thankful a whole heaping lot for the people and places we’re lucky we’re not. And this could not be more true. We, myself included, often take for granted the littlest things in our life. Like the food on the table, the roof over our heads and the bed we sleep on,” he said. “Other people would kill to have the so-called problems that we face on a daily basis.

“Wherever you end up in the future, or whatever moment you find yourself in, you can always find something to be thankful for, because as a wise man once said ‘it is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy’,” Henze said.



Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 9 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.