Friday and Saturday were filled with parental and community pride, as friends and family gathered to watch local students receive their hard-earned diplomas.
There was laughter, celebration and a few tears as these high school seniors spent their last time together as classmates reaching for a common goal: The future.
Despite the worries over weather, it stayed relatively clear, though a bit chilly at times, for the outdoor graduation ceremonies.
The Post-Record has put together a wrap up of the festivities from all four of the Camas-Washougal area’s public high schools.
Going forth with gumption
By Danielle Frost
Rain showers and thunderclouds gave way to sunshine and even the hint of a rainbow, as the Camas High School class of 2016 walked into Doc Harris Stadium to begin their graduation.
The predicted thunderstorms did not materialize, although plenty of the seniors were carrying umbrellas and plastic sheets just in case.
Kris Ahn, senior class president, welcomed her 454 classmates to Doc Harris one last time as high schoolers.
“It’s truly hard to believe that 13 years ago, we were all getting on buses for the first time, waving goodbye to teary eyed parents, nervously looking for a seat, or even better, a friend,” she said.
Ahn continued, “Everyone has a place in this world, and I hope we all find where we belong. There’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, don’t sleep and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives.”
Principal Steve Marshall spoke of the impressive accomplishments of the class of 2016.
“Since 2012, CHS has won three Washington Achievement Awards and been named to the US News and World Report’s list of America’s top high schools four times,” he said. “Also, it would take pages to review all of the title and awards that have been won by our sports and activities. But, beyond the awards and accolades, you have contributed countless service hours to our community, you have given us all some unforgettable memories, and you have given us reason to stand up and cheer.”
He noted that some accomplishments of the graduating class could not be quantified.
“Not everyone is in the talented and gifted program, but you are all talented and gifted,” Marshall said. “By sharing your education and skills, you are educating others.”
Amanda Shi, valedictorian, and Connie Wang, salutatorian, joked that the class of 2016 would look back on their high school years through the filter of Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
“We also made some amazing memories together,” Wang said. “We had two football players named to all-state, girls’ soccer was third at state and our choir was one of two asked to perform at the state competition. We had delegates go to an international women’s conference, and our robotics club competed at the world championships.”
Added Shi, “For all our parents and friends have done to support us, we, the class of 2016, thank you. Congratulations, happy graduation and best of luck.”
Also noted was that Superintendent Mike Nerland, as well as longtime English and writing teacher Hannelore Tweed, were also “graduating,” as they are both retiring from the school district.
Tweed was selected by the senior class to be the faculty speaker. She emphasized that these graduates were the ones she had connected with most during her years at CHS.
“You would come back and check on me, and even greet me in public, outside of CHS,” she said. “I have a special place in my heart for you because of this. I revel in your spirit of togetherness.”
Tweed encouraged the graduates to go forth with gratitude, generosity, grace and gumption.
“Be open-minded, open-hearted and flexible,” she said. “At 65, I stand before you and have made lots of mistakes. The way I survive is having the ability to say that I am sorry.”
By Heather Acheson
Forty Hayes Freedom High School seniors walked across the stage to receive their diplomas on Saturday. And as has become a trademark of this unique school’s commencement ceremonies, the event was filled with heartfelt speeches that uncovered raw emotions and a love for what it means to be a Renegade.
Several of the student speakers made special note of Principal Amy Holmes’ positive influence on the graduates’ lives.
Taylar Bryden, Associated Student Body vice president, thanked Holmes for her unconditional love and support.
“Under all of that armor she wears, you can see just how much the students really mean to her,” Bryden said. “If it wasn’t for Holmes, I don’t think most of us would be here today, ready to walk across the stage and actually graduate. She let us into her school, her life and her heart. She believed in us when no one else did, not even ourselves.”
As Holmes addressed the HFHS Class of 2016, she described her passion for helping each student succeed. It’s a responsibility she takes seriously.
“Believing in you, gives me hope,” she said. “It is truly important to me — the things that we try to teach you in-between the projects, the tests, the lectures and the presentations. It is so much more important for you to learn how to face challenges; how to solve real-world problems; how to decide when to give in, and when not to; how to speak and be heard — understanding that your voice is worth being heard.”
Holmes described the four years of high school as an educational expedition on a quest to reach graduation day. Academic benchmarks aside, she stressed that it’s who students are as people that really matters.
“You are not defined by a score or a failure, a mistake or your bank account,” she said. “You are not defined by the piece of paper you receive today, or where and if you decide to go to college. You are amazing and ought to be appreciated for who you are right now, not compared or judged against anyone else.”
ASB President Taya Porter talked about the many different paths that eventually led each student to become part of the Hayes Freedom family.
“We all started freshman year, excited or nervous of what was to come,” she said. “Although, I don’t think it turned out how many of us expected it to. I hope you don’t feel bad if high school wasn’t the best four years of your life,” she continued. “We are only 18. This is just the beginning. We have a clean slate to pursue what we are passionate about, to make the choices we feel are best for us, and make a difference in the world around us.”
A time to celebrate
By Dawn Feldhaus
The Washougal High School commencement included acknowledgements of students who achieved success in the classroom, as well as in sports, fine arts, clubs and other school-related endeavors.
The graduation ceremony took place Saturday evening, in Fishback Stadium.
Members of the Class of 2016 who plan to serve in the military were recognized, as members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4278 presented the national colors and the WHS band performed the National Anthem.
After acknowledging the retirements of teachers Mary Walker (family and consumer science) and Susan Lewallen (German and English), Principal Aaron Hansen had their former students stand up.
Valedictorian Taylor Brown remembered what it was like being an awkward freshman, then becoming a “know-it-all” sophomore and later, “classy, mini-adults.”
Salutatorian RaeAnn Allen had her classmates stand to acknowledge the parents, siblings and teachers who shaped them.
Senior Class President Courteney Webb encouraged the graduates to move forward.
“There is no growth or success without change,” she said. “Move on, learn and grow.”
Webb then presented examples from several Disney animated films, including “Brave.”
“There are no magical shortcuts,” she said.
“I hope you find your happily ever after,” Webb added.
John Carver, a language arts teacher, was selected by the senior class to provide the commencement address.
He acknowledged the graduates’ courage, stamina, compassion, work ethic, leadership and organizational skills. “Life is work,” Carver said. “Use your talents. Share your talents with others.
“Let others know how much they mean to you,” he added.
Associate Principal Carol Boyden recognized foreign exchange students from Argentina, Egypt and Denmark, and their host families.
“You are always a Panther,” she said to the students.
Washougal Mayor Sean Guard presented citizenship awards to Chloie Ernst and Caleb Bischoff.
Aubrey Kraft, a participant in three sports, received the “Bootstrap Award” for being a kind role model who is supportive of his peers, according to Boyden.
The Orange and Black award was presented to “softball slugger” Rebecca Bennett.
Carver referred to Bennett’s compassion and involvement in music, drama and athletics.
For the senior song, Sydney Valaer performed “Reach.”
Washougal School District Superintendent Mike Stromme spoke as the father of three.
He talked about the love of families and how parents have made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, wiped away tears and driven their children to many practices.
After School Board President Ron Dinius accepted the graduating class, the seniors received their diploma cases. The actual diplomas were distributed on Monday.
After the commencement was over, some of the graduates then left for an all-night drug- and alcohol-free celebration at Cascade Athletic Club, in east Vancouver.
Perseverance and dedication
By Heather Acheson
As Principal Carol Boyden addressed the last class that will graduate from the current Excelsior High School building, she passed along some words of wisdom: Be yourself, don’t be afraid, and consider every day a gift.
She encouraged the 12 students to be proud of the people they are, and who they will become.
“Grow your self-confidence,” she said. “If it’s shattered, as it will be at some point in your lives, pick it up and build it up again.”
Take life’s successes and disappointments as they come, she explained.
“Things happen that we can’t control,” Boyden said. “Don’t waste a minute of your life wanting to be someone else, or wanting what someone else has. Be you, like and appreciate you, and continually strive to be just a little bit better today, than you were yesterday.”
Boyden described the class of 2016 as a close-knit group that is easy to like and respect.
“They are a talented group of young men and women that you want to get to know better,” she said. “We have artists, computer geniuses, talented photographers, singers, young mothers and comedians.”
During the ceremony, two students were singled out to receive special honors.
Kasey Edwards earned the Phoenix Award. It recognizes a student who works hard, is dedicated and perseveres through hardship.
“I think [Edwards] has managed to defy a lot of odds, and has basically pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.”
Edwards later thanked his family and his girlfriend’s family for encouraging him to graduate from high school.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today getting my diploma,” he said.
The $500 Cheryl Trent Memorial Scholarship was given to Jordyn Schrader-Osentowski.
The honor is presented to a student who exemplifies the characteristics of the late Cheryl Trent, who was an instructor at Excelsior.
During the ceremony Patsy Boles, Washougal School District assistant superintendent, encouraged the students to revel in the achievement of earning a high school diploma, and use it as inspiration for the future.
“Filled with worry, anxiety and all kinds of life struggles, from health to general well-being, perhaps not everyone, including themselves, believed this day would come,” she said. “But is has. Each student, through perseverance, dedication has truly earned this recognition. Their graduation is a time they can really be proud of their accomplishments, and draw upon their success for future challenges.”
The Class of 2016 is the last group of students who will graduate from the existing Excelsior High School building that is made up of portables on 39th Street adjacent to Washougal High School. In less than two weeks, construction will begin on a 10,000 square foot school that will open in 2017.