By Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
---- — GREENTOWN – Claire Holkenbrink has shorter hair. Marie Holkenbrink has long hair. That’s important information if you want any chance of telling the difference between Eastern High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian.
The twin sisters landed the two highest academic spots in their class, and took to the stage, side by side, to send their 119 fellow classmates on their way during Eastern’s graduation ceremony on Sunday.
For their final farewell, the twins offered some advice from what they dubbed “The Holkenbrink’s Handheld Guide to Happiness.”
Each tidbit of advice corresponded to each finger, and went like this: Be confident (thumbs up). Get to work (pointer finger). Don’t be angry (the middle finger, of course). Don’t be afraid to ask for help (ring finger). And work together with others (pinky finger).
They summed up their five-fingered message with this piece of wisdom: Don’t hold back from helping people in need.
The speech demonstrated what Senior Class President Heather Wright has known all along about the Holkenbrink sisters.
“Not only are Marie and Claire extremely intelligent,” she said as she introduced the twins to the crowd packed inside Eastern’s gym. “They’re also very kind.”
Kindness was the message the school’s former eighth-grade science teacher, Tim Strand, left with the class of 2014 during his keynote address.
“My first rule in the classroom was ‘Do unto others as you would have done to you,’” he said. “That’s your job in life – to lift others up. The culture at Eastern and in Greentown has been to do that.”
It’s a lesson he’s learned first-hand in the last few months. Strand was diagnosed with brain cancer in March, and has since taken a leave of absence from teaching.
But since the diagnosis, former students, friends and family have donated more than $100,000 to help pay for a seven-week proton radiation therapy following a surgery that removed the brain tumor.
Strand received a standing ovation from the graduating seniors after his speech Sunday.
Eastern High School Principal Keith Richie praised the class of 2014 for setting the bar high during their years at the school, and said he’s enjoyed his time with all the students.
“I feel blessed for the opportunity to work with you over the years,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure to watch you grow into responsible young men and women.”
As the students flipped their tassels and left their high-school years behind them, they were encouraged to go out and do good for others.
“You have been blessed by being here, so go out, and invest in other people,” Strand said. “Be known for what you do for others.”
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carsongerber1.