DeKALB – "Shrek." Kendrick Lamar's "Humble." "The Lord of the Rings."
Those pop cultural touchstones (and several others) got shoutouts during a nostalgic commencement ceremony for DeKalb High School graduates Saturday at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center.
Principal James Horne referenced the green ogre, the films "Monsters Inc." and "The Lord of the Rings" as the films that were dominating the box office when members of the Class of 2019 were born 18 years ago.
This past weekend, they became the first crop of high school graduates born into the post-9/11 world.
In her welcome speech, graduate Emma Carpenter referenced the rapper Kendrick Lamar's ode to humility as a reminder the Class of 2019 took to heart during their high school years.
And like the hobbits of Middle-earth, these graduating seniors had a supportive community that encouraging them to keep going.
"My parents were always there for me, my friends had my back, but I have to give [credit] mostly to Mr. [Chad] Gregory, my art teacher," said Asher Lowrey, who will be attending the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in the fall. "This year was my last time at the DeKalb Art Show, but I've been participating in it nine years. Last year, I was considering dropping out and just pursuing the arts as an individual.
"And Mr. Gregory was the one who convinced me to come back one more year, at least for a semester, and he told me that if I came back he would find me a college I wanted to go to. And now I'm here, with $72,000 to the school of my dreams. So he pulled through, and I just had to have a little faith in him."
Christian Ibarra, who will be attending the University of Illinois to pursue a degree in business, also thanked teachers for their help on his journey, giving credit to educators Nate Viland, Tait Hilmer and Rebecca Powers.
But most importantly, he thanked his mom, Sylvia.
"She's No. 1," he said. "She's my best friend."
At graduation, many turned their attention to another champion of DHS students who was unable to attend the ceremony. Brenda Shakir commemorated her late husband, Ata, who passed away in June 2017 after a four-month-long battle with cancer.
Ata Shakir was a social studies teacher at DeKalb High who was 41 when he died.
"He didn't want you to impress him," Brenda Shakir said. "He wanted you to impress yourself."
Senior class president Nigel Dyson said Ata Shakir inspired him during his years at the high school.
"I think the person who made the biggest impact on me was Mr. Shakir," Dyson said. "It's sad to say that he couldn't be here today because he loved graduation. But he was my first teacher in summer school of ninth grade, and you could just tell from the get-go that he believed in his students."