PABLO – As legally binding documents go, the papers that were signed by 230 Pablo residents and witnessed by the governor of Montana on Wednesday may not hold up in any court, anywhere, ever.

But that was not the goal.

Graduation is.

And so the Class of 2028 – and the classes of 2024, 2025, 2026 and 2027, currently students at Pablo Elementary School – pledged Wednesday to earn their high school diplomas, “No matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes, no matter how hard it gets.”

The woman who launched Graduation Matters Montana in 2010, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, was with Gov. Steve Bullock and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes spokesman Rob McDonald to accept the pledge cards – or, in the case of Pablo, pledge posters – from a sea of students dressed in lime-green T-shirts.

“Pablo Elementary,” the shirts said, depicting a finish line underneath.

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“The finish line is just the start,” Bullock told the K-4 kids. “Graduate high school, and a whole world of opportunities opens up for you.”

Bullock got a chuckle when he asked if any of the youngsters knew what a governor does, and one student decided it’s the one person who “controls the whole state.”

The most important part of his job, Bullock told them, is “to do everything I can to make sure all of you can succeed.”

“When you succeed, all of Montana succeeds,” he said. “We’re counting on each and every one of you. We’re cheering for you all the way.”

It’s one thing for parents and teachers to stress the importance of graduation, Pablo Elementary Principal Ryan Fisher said, but another when students promise not only their families and teachers, but also themselves, that they will earn their high school diplomas.

When that had been accomplished, they let the world know about their promise.

Well, at least four or five blocks of it.

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Once the ceremony was finished in the school gym, the Ronan High School Jazz Band serenaded the 230 children and sent them marching off through Pablo behind a fire truck.

The dignitaries quickly were upstaged as University of Montana mascot Monte joined the kids for the parade. Let’s just say – no offense to the person who “controls the whole state” – that a hug from the grizzly bear was much more sought after than an autograph from the governor.

The school had an event last year when students first signed their graduation matters pledges, “but not on this big a scale,” Fisher said. “We got lucky with our guests.”

It was a member of the principal’s Montana Behavior Initiative team who – as Wednesday’s event was being planned – announced they intended to invite Bullock.

“The governor?” Fisher said of his reaction. “I just chuckled, and said, ‘Good luck with that.’ ” 

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As fate would have it, Bullock was scheduled to be just three blocks from the school that morning, for a meeting of the State Land Board, where he serves as one of its five commissioners (see related story on A1).

What’s more, one of the other commissioners is Juneau. Both were happy to stick around for the Graduation Matters event (and Bullock was also at Arlee Schools later Wednesday afternoon to present a SMART Schools Green Challenge award).

Juneau says her Graduation Matters Montana initiative is working. The high school graduation rate in the state was 80.7 percent the year before she launched it, and reached an all-time high of 86 percent last year, five years into the program.

Instead of pledge cards, the each classroom of Pablo students signed pledge posters their principal plans to display on the school’s walls.

“My goal,” starting in eight years, Fisher said, is to attend high school graduations, “Look at the names on those posters, and check off every single one of those names.”

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