Taryn Peterson welcomed the almost capacity crowd of friends and family who gathered to watch the Class of 2014 take their first step into adult life. She then introduced the class valedictorian, Dylan Hansen.
Hansen alternately teased and praised the faculty and staff at the high school. He warned that there could be several gallons of salad dressing hidden in the library, a parting gift to para-educator Joyce Wilson.
“Mr. Rooklidge,” Hansen said, “Thank you for not only being a great teacher, but also a great friend. Learning becomes a whole lot better when it comes from someone who is more than just a teacher.
“Mr. Niemeyer,” he continued, “thank you for teaching me that working hard is its own reward. You have my respect because you gave me yours. I feel like that is one of the most important things I learned in high school.”
The unique fingerprint of the class began to take form with each speech, with each affectionate and teasing remark directed at the faculty, staff and peers. Their identity was outlined by Stephanie Leitz, the high school principal who first stood before them as a kindergarten teacher. The class of 2014 spoke frequently of a bond forged over the years. A bond they knew would soon be tried as the diameter of their circle grew wider and longer and farther than any of them could imagine.
And over and over they resolved with a private joke, ‘I’m sure it’s fine.”
“I don’t know if I’m just speaking for myself here or not,” class choice Seth Doumit said, “but I’m terrified of the rest of my life. And it’s going to be harder because I’m not going to have all my classmates to help me get through it. My class here tonight is some of the best people I have ever met and I am going to miss every single one of them. I know some of them don’t think they made a difference for our class, but I can honestly say that things wouldn’t be like they are if it weren’t for all of you and I love you all.
“But,” he acknowledged, “life is about moving on; we have done it our whole lives.”
Salutatorian Madison LaBerge spoke of transitions, “Whether we are ready or not, it’s time for us to enter into the real world, tackle new challenges, new ends and new beginnings and start a new chapter in our lives.”
“From now on,” exchange student Hsuan-Wei Huang reminded his classmates, “each of us will be going out into the world. The world is unknown and wide for us. We will have work responsibilities and we will expect to be informed of good news from one another. We are closely linked no matter where in the world we may be.”
Exchange student Aleksandra Vlahovic spoke affectionately of her time in Cathlamet.
“I have a secret that I want to share with you today,” Vlahovic said. “I think I fall in love.”
It wasn’t with Mr. Hurley, though she loved his class. It wasn’t with Mrs. Haberlach even though she had learned to like math with her help. And it wasn’t with Mr. Thomas or Mr. Garrett or even Mrs. Petterson who gave her the confidence to stand in front of a crowd and give a speech in a foreign language. It wasn’t with Mrs. Merz, who had proved to be a teacher and a friend.
“Cathlamet,” Vlahovic said, “I fell for you. I fell for the flavor, beauty, charm, mystery, and yes, even for the history this small community holds. My time here in Cathlamet has been relatively short, but you’ve given me a year’s worth of joy to take home. Yes, Cathlamet, you made me love you. You made me love America. Exchange is leaving home. Twice.”
Awards were presented and scholarships were announced. The class totaled nearly $350,000 in scholarships, with Lainie Ferguson collecting more than a third of the amount, with $124,300.
Finally, the class rose row by row and each individual took the walk across the stage for their diploma.
“Good job. Good Luck,” Faculty choice and closing speaker Chelsea Paulson said. “I’m sure its fine.”
The class sang the alma mater and stood for a moment, stunned. Then the silly string appeared from nowhere and flew and flew and flew.