“These past four years have been incredibly difficult, but you’ve managed to persevere.”
Camas High School commencement speaker Adrian Soh’s words swept over the rain-soaked crowd gathered at Doc Harris Stadium on Friday, June 10, to celebrate the school’s class of 2022, praising the Camas High seniors and highlighting a theme that wove its way into all of this year’s Camas-Washougal commencement ceremonies: the class of 2022 had come through a pandemic that shuttered schools their sophomore year, led to hybrid classes throughout their junior year and was still impacting daily life during much of their senior year.
The pandemic, Soh said, had “left many of us wondering if anything would ever be normal.”
And, yet, here they were – the class of 2022, graduating in front of their peers, teachers, families and friends, ready to embark on the first chapter of their adult lives.
“We’re entering an intersection – one of the most important ones in your life,” Soh told their classmates. “So many opportunities and choices lie ahead of you.”
The Camas High School commencement ceremony honoring nearly 450 graduating seniors on June 10 was one of five such ceremonies held last week for Camas-Washougal’s class of 2022.
Two new graduation ceremonies – one for the online Camas Connect Academy’s 27 seniors and another celebrating Discovery High School’s first graduating class of 60 seniors – took place on Thursday, June 9.
One day after Camas High’s commencement, on Saturday, June 11, Hayes Freedom High School in Camas held a commencement for its 48 class of 2022 graduates inside Camas School District’s newly revamped Joyce Garver Theater.
The Camas School District restricted media access to its graduation ceremonies this year, stating in an email to media outlets sent Wednesday, June 8, that the district was “shifting the way (it) approach(es) graduations and … no longer giving special media access during ceremonies.”
The Camas School District did, however, stream three of its graduation ceremonies – for Camas High, Hayes Freedom and the Camas Connect Academy – on its YouTube channel and shared photos from all four events with local media organizations, including the Post-Record.
Rain doesn’t stop Camas High class of 2022
The June 10 commencement ceremony for Camas High’s class of 2022 may have been a return to “normal,” without the COVID-19 pandemic cautions of 2020 and 2021, but that “normal” also included a normal part of living in the Pacific Northwest – lots of rainy weather.
As one Camas High senior put it during the “You know you’re the class of 2022 when” portion of the event: “You know you’re the class of 2022 when you have a normal, but wet, graduation.”
The rain didn’t dampen the Camas graduates’ spirits, though. The outdoor ceremony at Doc Harris Stadium continued through the evening downpour, with graduates, teachers, principals and school board members donning clear plastic rain ponchos over their red and black Camas High graduation gowns, and holding an umbrella over the evening’s featured speakers.
“This lame atmospheric river thought it could stop you,” Camas’ interim superintendent, Doug Hood, joked to the Camas High graduates before wishing them the best as they begin “the next chapter of (their) life.”
Camas High’s 2022 graduating class included 63 Washington state scholars who placed among the state’s top 10% of graduating seniors academically as well as 44 students in the Running Start program, who not only earned a high school diploma this month but also an associate’s degree from Clark College.
The school’s 2022 teacher of the year, Richard Mancini, helped the crowd laugh away the rain with a speech punctuated by funny musings – “Do stomachs think all potatoes are mashed? What if dogs only lick us because they know we have bones inside?” – and truths about how to live a good life.
“Education is an important thing, but is it the most important thing?” Mancini asked the graduates. “You may be an A student, but are you an A person?”
The students’ favorite teacher urged the class of 2022 to base their life around the things they truly love.
“The secret to having an awesome life? Find your calling and do that. If you can do this, your work will be more fun. … You’ll find that your calling is often in sync with your natural talents and abilities,” Mancini added. “Part of your calling is understanding your role in … humanity.”
Mancini, a band teacher, likened this to a band where everyone plays a unique instrument and there are no “unimportant parts.”
“In life, sometimes you play the melody. Sometimes you keep the harmony … or just play the upbeats,” Mancini told the graduates. “Sometimes you rest and don’t play anything.”
Maybe, he said, you are the person who plays one note on a triangle who gets to be “a star for one brief second.”
“When you understand where you fit in, and when you’re good at playing your part, life is good,” Mancini concluded.
Seniors shine at Camas Connect Academy
The 27 students who chose to remain online for their senior year via the Camas Connect Academy (CCA) gathered on the stage of the Camas High School theater on June 9 to celebrate their graduation and remember their high school accomplishments.
Savannah Stephens, the recipient of the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Camas college scholarship award, spoke at the CCA commencement ceremony about the challenges of being a high school student during a global pandemic.
“Because of COVID, things got kind of weird. Some of us were totally isolated, and we were totally OK with that. The rules were gone, no more structure,” Stephens said. “I know I’m not the only one when I say my mental health was not at an all-time high. … When schools finally opened, we felt lost. Nothing was the same. We needed structure and we needed guidance.”
Hearing about the fully remote option provided by CCA “gave me hope,” Stephens said. “I felt like I was drowning at school and was relieved to find (CCA). I was so happy to have this community that knew me – not just my name, but what I wanted to do after high school, what subjects I struggled with and what my passions were.”
Stephens urged other CCA graduates to do something “commendable and life-changing” after graduation.
“It could be anything,” said Stephens, who plans to major in history at Brigham Young University in the fall. “Keep a plant alive for more than two months. Apply for a job and be proud of yourself for it. Study abroad and see the world for yourself. Go to college and change your major because it’s OK to change and grow.”
CCA Principal Daniel Huld and other educators introduced the group of CCA graduates by name and noted facts about each student. One student, who had written a book of nature-themed poetry for their senior project, planned to go to Clark College and then Washington State University in pursuit of a psychology degree. Another student learned how to play the electric guitar for their senior project and planned to study biology in college. One graduate was on their way to Clark College on a first step toward becoming an FBI agent. Another student, who had crafted their own skateboard for a senior project, planned to go into the trades and specialize in carpentry.
Huld urged CCA’s first graduating class to remain optimistic even when the world seems overwhelming, cultivate a sense of humor, think before they speak and surround themselves with quality people.
Hayes Freedom: ‘A place for students to find their humanity’
Hayes Freedom High School celebrated its class of 2022 graduates on Thursday, June 9, in the Camas School District’s newly renovated Joyce Garver Theater.
Hayes principal Amy Holmes praised the graduating seniors for their hard work over the past four years.
“You learned how to work and listen to people – even those who drove you crazy,” Holmes said. “You show up for each other. You listen to seek understanding … Those are the traits our world needs more of.”
Holmes urged the class of 2022 graduates to be fearless and “stand up for something or someone (they) believe in” and to follow their hearts.
“Renegades,” Holmes said, giving a nod to the Hayes Freedom mascot, “you are thoughtful, bold, curious, patient, caring beyond measure. Believe it or not, you are ready for what’s next. It is time for you to go … create and make your place in this world. … Live each day with purpose and build a world you can be proud of. Be kind. Be proud. Be fearless.”
Student speakers, including the school’s student body president, Ariana Berumen, acknowledged the challenges many in the class of 2022 have faced throughout their high school years.
“I know some of you thought you were not going to be on this stage today,” Berumen said. “We are proud of you and the work you put in. And you should be proud of yourself, too.”
Berumen credited Hayes Freedom, which offers Camas high-schoolers a smaller, more flexible option, for changing her perspective.
“Hayes has taught me so much as a student and a person,” Berumen said. “I had a challenging high school experience before Hayes. I woke up every day hating going to school. But, at Hayes, I woke up excited and looking forward to my future. … Hayes is an amazing school.”
Another student speaker, Amy Smith, echoed Berumen’s sentiments.
Before coming to Hayes, Smith said, they had felt like “some kid the teachers had to pay attention to.” But Hayes’ staff changed those feelings, Smith said.
“This is a safe, successful place for students to actually learn and grow and I want all of my fellow graduates to see just how strong all of us are, how strong we’ve proven ourselves to be,” Smith said. “The students here are the strongest people I’ve ever met.”
Hayes teacher Kyle Keefe delivered the staff address to the class of 2022.
“When I came to Hayes I had to completely unlearn everything I was taught,” Keefe said. “For the first time, teaching at Hayes, I (learned that) I needed to be a listener. To ask more questions. Trust critical thinking. Lean into support systems and find my own voice.”
Students have told Keefe they felt unseen and unheard before coming to Hayes.
“The fact that Hayes exists for people is truly something … but we must ask what if this program didn’t exist in this community? Where would we put all of the creative, kind, talented people who deserve education in spite of all the people who couldn’t see them?” Keefe asked.
“This is a place for students to find their humanity and voice as individuals and, ultimately, as a collective,” Keefe said of Hayes Freedom High.
Keefe encouraged the class of 2022 students to be their own fearless advocates in life.
“Use your voice. Think critically,” Keefe said. “Be kind. It’s up to you now to shape the day.”