Having the determination to succeed

Hayes Freedom, Excelsior graduates overcome challenges during high school

Hayes Freedom graduates Corina Morgan, Andrew Jacobson, Tanner Wehring, Franciso Ponce and Samantha Thomas (left to right) celebrate following the presentation of the diplomas on Saturday. Buy this photo

If there was one theme that was weaved throughout the Hayes Freedom High School and Excelsior High School graduations this past week, it was that with the right guidance, determination to succeed, and a few strategically timed pushes along the way, goals that once didn’t seem possible can be achieved.

Hayes and Excelsior, the alternative high schools in the Camas and Washougal school districts, respectively, held commencement ceremonies that included tears, laughter and memories proud and challenging moments.

The 51 graduates of HFHS attended commencement at Liberty Middle School on Saturday while Excelsior’s 24 seniors graduated at Washburn Performing Arts Center at Washougal High School.

Excelsior graduate Slayton Smith said he was thankful to his family, and especially the staff at Excelsior for leading him in the right direction.

“The road to graduation for me has been pretty rough,” Smith said. “After freshman year, I didn’t even know if I’d be graduating and now I am one of two speakers.”

Dressed in the Renegade colors of emerald green and black, the Hayes Freedom graduates heard from Erin Jones, the assistant superintendent of student achievement for the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The powerful speaker talked about pursuing dreams — even in the face of adversity.

Jones was born as a result of an affair between a young white married woman and a much older black man in northern Minnesota. After being adopted by a white couple, her life took several turns that had many ups and downs. She ended up attending an elite high school in the Netherlands, where her father worked as a teacher, then returning to the United States to attend college.

She is now the highest ranking black woman in state government.

“I don’t say that to brag,” she explained. “I say that to let you know that you can’t ever let anything stop your dreams.”

That same theme was echoed in the speech of Hayes Freedom senior Kurtis Moody, who is his family’s first high school graduate.

“We know what our dreams are and we will never stop pursuing them until they come true,” he said. “We are the Renegades. We never give up.”