Staunton News Leader, VA
May 30 2004
Family, God play starring roles in Grace graduation
Ex-Navy Seal prepares Warriors for battle
By Chris Lassiter/staff
STAUNTON — Albert Mirzoyan literally had a long journey to graduation
day at Grace Christian High School.
It wasn’t that long ago that Mirzoyan’s family fled their home country
of Armenia and were struggling to find the necessities in life: food,
water and electricity.
Through a series of events, the family relocated to Staunton.
Events that Mirzoyan said were no accident.
“It’s so awesome how God works,” said the senior, his face partly
covered by his cap tassel. “I never thought I’d be a student here.
This is the best thing ever. I’m leaving one stage of life and moving
to the next.”
The administration at Grace Christian made sure that Mirzoyan and the
other 24 students gathered at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church went
out in style.
The graduation’s two tear-jerking events — the flower exchange and
the candle-lighting ceremony — were preceded by a couple of hymns
and Katherine Archer, Mary Helen Clemmer and Kathryn Rawley’s humorous
trip down memory lane.
Bill Renton, a Navy Seal and two-time Olympian, gave the graduation
speech. Renton, who teaches and coaches soccer at Grace, charged the
students to commit to the Christian life in the same way a Navy Seal
commits to defending America.
Afterwards, tears flowed freely as students embraced their mothers
and presented them with red roses.
“I almost cried,” senior Cameron Culbertson said. “My mom was bawling.”
The fathers also got involved in the ceremony, lighting a candle
for their children as a sign of passing the Christian heritage on to
“It’s very touching,” graduate Nathaniel Knopp said. “It makes
you realize the influence he’s had in your life by setting a Godly
The ceremony had its light moments, too. Renton ripped off his white
dress shirt to reveal his “salmon” polo knit shirt.
“Everyone knows men don’t wear pink,” he said, laughing at the inside
joke between him and the students. “It’s salmon.”
The seniors recounted their April 1 prank on the teachers and staff,
when they arrived at school one hour early and claimed the staff
parking for themselves.
John Morrison, the head administrator at Grace Christian, reciprocated
by giving the kids fake diplomas as they crossed the stage.
It was the type of ceremony that made Jennifer Card, Holly Mancini
and Philip Silling glad they attended Grace Christian.
“I’m going to miss everyone,” Mancini said. “This is a good school,
and I’m thankful to come out of it.”