WARSAW — Students from Harrison, Madison, Claypool, Sacred Heart, Leesburg, Washington, Jefferson, Eisenhower and Lincoln elementary schools, along with their families, teachers and D.A.R.E. officers, gathered at the Grace College Manahan Orthopaedics Center, Winona Lake, Tuesday, May 16, for the annual D.A.R.E. graduation.
D.A.R.E., which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a program that was founded in 1983 and is now being implemented in 75 percent of school districts in over 52 countries. The program is led by police officers and teaches children how to resist peer pressure and live productive, drug-free lives.
A moving rendition of the National Anthem was performed by Warsaw Police Department Detective Brad Kellar to begin the event.
Entertainment was provided by Cassie and Konstantine, a husband and wife team who travel all over the world performing their quick change act, the Fort Wayne Scottish Pipes and Drums group and the Sandou Russian Bar Trio who performed high-flying jumps, flips and stunts.
Winona Lake Town Marshal Joe Hawn was this year’s special award recipient. Warsaw Police Department Officer Doug Light called Hawn to the stage. Light confessed to those in attendance that he had not been honest with Hawn when Hawn inquired, prior to the event, if anyone special was being recognized at this year’s graduation. Light told him, “No.” As audience members laughed, Light then said to Hawn, “Well, we are recognizing someone special tonight – and that someone is you.” Light described Hawn’s 27 years of service in law enforcement, including 18 years spent with D.A.R.E., as well as the influence he has had on thousands of students over the years.
Light read a message from Warsaw Police Chief Scott Whitaker, praising Hawn as being committed to his profession and helping to foster the relationships between community members and local police officers.
Light then presented Hawn with an inscribed plaque. The plaque read, in part, “Thank you for 18 years of dedication as a Warsaw Police Department D.A.R.E. Officer and for being committed to changing the lives of students at Warsaw Community schools.” Hawn received a standing ovation.
Honorary Warsaw Police Officer Drake Price, a fourth grader at Lincoln Elementary School, was called to the stage to help lead the “Roar, respect, order, attitude, responsibility” cheer. Price, who underwent surgery at Riley Children’s Hospital, Indianapolis, earlier this year, was given the honorary title at a special ceremony in March.
Mason Metzger, Silver Lake, a senior at Warsaw Community High School, was the keynote speaker for the event. Metzger, who has cerebral palsy and utilizes a wheelchair, is an award-winning motivational speaker. Metzger urged students to, “Remember that you have the power to stand firm no matter what temptation or obstacle you face,” and “Be shaped and molded into who you want to be – not who others are telling you to be.”
D.A.R.E. students received recognition in several categories. Awards were given for essays, most stickers earned and self-esteem, as well as the Sgt. Terry Polston Memorial Award. The Sgt. Terry Polston Memorial D.A.R.E. Student of the Year Award was established in the spring of 2009 and is the highest achievement a student can receive in the D.A.R.E. Program. The memorial award was implemented in honor of Sgt.Terry Polston, who passed away in 2008 after a long battle with lung cancer. Polston, better known as “OP” (short for Officer Polston) was well known for his years as a D.A.R.E. officer who impacted the lives of thousands of children in the community.