Lodge Grass community rallies behind 2011 graduates

2011-06-05T21:00:00Z 2014-08-25T14:48:53Z Lodge Grass community rallies behind 2011 graduatesBy CHELSEA KROTZER Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

Senior Henry Speelman Jr. opened his valedictory speech with something that would bring his graduating class together.

The line fell from the heavens.

"So ... how about that flood?" Speelman asked his fellow graduates Sunday afternoon.

Floodwater surrounded the small town of Lodge Grass for several days, postponing the high school graduation ceremony.

Speelman was out with his father, Mayor Henry Speelman, checking drains, assisting residents and bringing supplies to Crow Agency by boat on his original graduation day. 

Working together to overcome obstacles is what the Lodge Grass community relied on.

It's a trait shared by the Speelman family. Speelman's father was laid off from his job six months ago. He's fighting fires in Texas to keep money coming in for the family, which meant missing out on the graduation of his youngest child and only son.

His wife, Janice, had quite a pair of shoes to fill, not only for her son but also for the town.

"It's like our wing is cut off," Janice said.

Their son opted to push on despite adversity. It's part of a mantra he's lived by for as long as he can remember, and he shared with his fellow seniors during Sunday's ceremony. 

"Work hard, become a leader. Be lazy, become a slave," Henry Speelman Jr. said in his valedictorian speech, citing Proverbs 12:24.

It didn't hurt to have a pair of caring parents pushing him beyond his limits.

"I've been told that when Henry was in elementary school, he would look up from the kitchen table with tears in his eyes and ask his parents 'Why? Why are you making me do all this homework?' " Principal Jeff Ralston said. "And his parents would say, 'Someday you'll thank me for this.' "

Speelman's goal in life is to better himself. His hard work in school paid off in the form of scholarships. The senior was awarded the Valedictorian Scholarship to Rocky Mountain College, which pays for all four years of college.

The scholarship is worth around $64,000.

"I didn't want to be stuck in this rut around here as far as poverty," Speelman said. "I want to move on, get an education, and a better life."

He has three siblings to look up to. Janice Speelman said all of her daughters either are attending or have attended college.

"They are all really hard workers, and I'm really proud of them," Janice said of her children. "Everyone asks me if I was going to cry, and well, I still haven't had time to think about it. We've had a crazy couple months."

She was able to hold herself together, beaming when her son handed her his diploma.

With another goal achieved, Speelman can work on his next target: acquiring his college education. The soon-to-be college student plans to major in physical therapy, and he hopes to one day return and help young athletes like him.

Speelman played football and basketball and participated in track. His love, though, is football, especially playing defense.

"I'd rather give the hits than take them," Speelman said.

He plays in Saturday's Class B Big Sky All-Star football game. Soon after, he'll be training with Rocky Mountain College football players to prepare for the fall season. 

"I'm looking forward to being united more as a team than being an individual," Speelman said. "Our football team finished this year off with 12 people. I only came off the field like once."



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