Graduation 2017: A time of change and hope

Students earn diplomas from Camas, Excelsior, Hayes Freedom and Washougal high schools

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By Danielle Frost. Dawn Feldhaus. Dan Trujillo and Tori Benavente, Post-Record staff writers

Friday and Saturday were filled with parental, educator and community pride, as friends and family gathered to watch local students receive their hard-earned diplomas.

There was laughter, celebration, tears and a challenge to the graduates to find common ground as they make their way as adults in an increasingly polarized society.

Despite all of the rocky times this past year, both locally and nationally, one theme emerged at all of the local high school graduations: people still have hope and a true desire to make positive change.

The Post-Record has put together a round-up of the festivities from all four public high schools in the Camas-Washougal area:

Phoenix rising

It’s been a year of transition and change for everyone at Excelsior High School.

No one knows that better than Principal Carol Boyden, who also will “graduate” at the end of this month, after 47 years in education, and embark on a new chapter of her life: retirement.

Boyden addressed the 18 members of Excelsior’s 2017 graduating class Friday with her trademark kindness, humor and a little sarcasm sprinkled in.

“I wish I had great thoughts and words of wisdom for you, but I don’t,” she said. “We need to start small and step up to help others. We need to respect and support the environment, research and learn to live together peacefully. This makes up a culture of positivity.”

Boyden added that she herself has not always modeled these words: “I appreciate all of you, even those who have driven me insane this year, and I’m glad I don’t need to follow up on any of my threats … lovingly given.”

This year, Excelsior students took their classes at Washougal High, while their new 10,000-square-foot building — expected to open this fall — was under construction.

The juggle in schedules and temporary changes has been difficult at times, but like their mascot, the Phoenix, Excelsior students kept rising to meet the challenges.

During the ceremony, Excelsior staff singled out several students for special honors. Oriana Riley earned the Phoenix Award, which recognizes a student who works hard, is dedicated and perseveres through hardship.

Three students — Jade Darrow, Elijah Williams and Page Ward — shared the Grit Award, which honors those who exemplify the belief that failure is not an option.

Arieanna Divine earned the $1,000 Cheryl Trent Memorial Scholarship, an honor presented to a student who exemplifies the characteristics of the late Cheryl Trent, an instructor at Excelsior.

“Thanks for providing an environment that I could excel in, and staff who were so caring,” Divine said in her acceptance speech.

Washougal Superintendent Mike Stromme closed the ceremony by telling the newly minted graduates to enjoy their accomplishments.

“We sit with a great deal of pride having watched you reach this goal,” Stromme said.

‘Cherish memories, explore opportunities’

The Washougal High School graduation ceremony, held Saturday, June 17, at Fishback Stadium, included many references to the importance of support and encouragement from family, friends and faculty.

And it was family, friends and faculty who turned out to congratulate Washougal’s nearly 200 graduates.

Ryan Krout, one of Washougal High’s two valedictorians, mentioned the importance of hard work and determination, and thanked classmates, teammates, friends, teachers, parents — “professional PB and J makers” — coaches and mentors.

Krout encouraged graduates to cherish their memories and explore opportunities.

Robert Wayper, the other Washougal valedictorian, said persistence and procrastination were part of the high school experience.

After mentioning that hiking trails is one of his favorite things to do, Wayper said the trail through life is even longer and more challenging.

Salutatorian Meghan Jackson talked about hours of study, mental breakdowns and balancing chemical equations.

Mitchell Leon, WHS’s senior class president, said the class of 2017’s accomplishments — in which the school saw increased test scores, a higher graduation rate and nearly $700,000 in scholarships for this year’s seniors — occurred through collaboration and trial-by-fire.

WHS teacher Jim Reed mentioned that two of this year’s seniors had beat cancer and that three students had lost a parent during their senior year.

He invited adults in the audience to stand, as a sign that they are available for advice and counsel, whenever needed by the graduates.

“Be relentless in pursuit of your future,” Reed told the graduating seniors.

American Sign Language teacher Tami Grant, a 1987 WHS graduate, was this year’s senior class advisor. She talked about the generosity of students who provided food for the Children’s Home Society and helped a family that lost their home in a fire.

The ceremony also recognized seniors who have enlisted in the military, and foreign exchange students and their host families. Twenty-one WHS seniors participated in the Running Start program and earned associate degrees at Clark College this year.

Several students won various awards for their efforts during the 2016-17 school year: Zach Kettleson-Snow won the Citizenship Award; Louis Barles and Kaylei Berry earned the Bootstrap Award, given to individuals who have overcome obstacles during their high school careers; and Morgan Radcliff and Jake Klackner received the Orange and Black Award.

WHS Principal Aaron Hansen said the graduates would be welcome to come back to visit, but joked that they would have to use the front door.

“Your success is our success,” Hansen said.

Papermaker graduates take ‘pride in hard work’

Excellence in academics and athletes makes this Camas High School graduating class of 2017 one of a kind — as unique as the school’s Mean Machine mascot.

“Camas has a community built on student involvement and pride in hard work,” said Saluatorian Calvin Taylor. “I’m not sure if it’s our teachers, our supportive parents or some strange super-chemical coming from the mill. One thing’s for sure, we are all lucky to be here.”

More than 500 Papermakers collected their high school diplomas on Friday, June 16, at Doc Harris Stadium.

Counselor Donna Cooper, who has worked at Camas High School since 1951, received a retiree award.

“Sixty-six years, that’s pretty impressive,” said 2017 graduate Christina Lee of Cooper’s longevity at the Camas school. “She was a counselor for us, our parents and our grandparents.”

Matt Loop was named Teacher of the Year.

“I’m glad I didn’t have first-period seniors, because there’s nothing like Portland traffic at Camas every morning,” Loop joked.

In his final address as Camas High’s principal, Steve Marshall told the graduating young men and women to take on the world.

“Go out and fix our country. Can you guys bring us back together?” Marshall asked. “You have to dream big, even if you come from a small town.”

The outgoing principal said he wished the new graduates the same things they have added to his life.

“I have loved working with you and I have loved learning with you,” Marshall said. “You have made my job rewarding and my life fulfilling, and I wish you nothing but the same.”

Rest easy, dream big

Hayes Freedom High School’s 40 graduating seniors marched side-by-side, tassels and robes flowing, into the Liberty Middle School gym on Saturday, July 16.

Green Day’s iconic song, “Good Riddance,” projected through the speakers while the graduating Renegades entered their last hours as high school seniors.

Graduates William del Giudice, Lucas Wickizer, Cynthia Vazquez and Haylee Hune spoke at the ceremony.

Graduate Tahlia Harris performed “The Call” by Regina Spektor, and graduate Angelica Heyman performed “Rest Easy,” an original song.

Heyman said she wrote “Rest Easy” after a creative writing assignment asked her to write a letter to someone she couldn’t talk to. Heyman chose one of her best friends, who lost his life to death by suicide.

The Hayes Freedom graduate said the assignment helped her express feelings she was never able to tell her friend. She transformed the letter into a song, which helped her understand her own feelings.

“It’s harder for me to express myself through words than through music,” she explained.

Heyman credited her time at Hayes with helping her learn how to take pride in herself for never giving up, conquering her fears, being strong and leaning on others when she felt like giving up.

Kelly Johnson, a mentor for student interns at Wafer Tech, also spoke at the Hayes Freedom ceremony. He said that he’s been to many graduations, but this ceremony was the first that made him feel so emotional.

Student Haylee Hune said staff at Hayes had a big role in her success. Hune moved out on her own when she was 14, and said the staff at her high school understood her situation, finding her things like a toothbrush and shampoo, that she needed but didn’t want to ask for.

“It’s great to have people at Hayes like that, who understand situations, and they just have more common sense than a lot of people,” she said.

Principal Amy Holmes said the graduates are all talented and strong individuals: “I have the best job ever, everyday I walk into the school and I get to interact with them.”

In her speech, Holmes encouraged the graduates to always be true to themselves.

“My renegades, you are bold, gracious, patient, loving, quiet, smart, strong-willed (and) powerful beyond measure,” Holmes said. “Embrace this and be assured that you are good, and you will grow and emerge into different versions of yourself, and the path that gets you there does not need to be anyone else’s normal.”