Wahkiakum graduates take the stage
June 15, 2023
Days of fine weather seemed to ensure that the Wahkiakum High School Class of 2023 would enjoy graduation in the sun, but when the rain came the district scrambled to move the ceremony indoors. For the first time since the pandemic began, the gym was full to the rafters with friends and family on hand to celebrate 44 students participating in their final act as students at Wa-Ki-Hi.
Malia Ana Silva, the class salutatorian, welcomed the crowd. In her speech, she remembered one teacher from their early years who was excited to see them move on to middle school, and the reason why became clear as Silva pointed out, they would be remembered as the worst class to ever pass through the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.
"It was safe to say that we had a reputation," Silva said.
She wouldn't have wanted to go through the last four years with anyone else and they were, in her estimation, "the best class to have ever come through the Wahkiakum School District."
Don Cox, a history teacher at the district, spoke of incentivized learning, where students focus on "chasing points," whether it's a GPA or test scores, and encouraged the class to consider curiosity and to create meaning.
"I've been doing this for going on 20 years now, and in my experience it's the students who chase the learning, who look at the world with wondering eyes that are the happiest," Cox said. "Students who spend their school days cheating, bluffing, or sleeping their way through the experience will find on the morrow that their diploma is a meaningless piece of paper with a gold sticker on it."
"The world doesn't care what happens to you nearly as much as it cares with what you do with what happens to you," he told them. "Make a difference in the world, or don't. You are the author of your own life story. Make that story into the Pulitzer Prize bestseller, the Hollywood blockbuster that we, who have been reading your story for the last four years, know is inside each of you."
Math teacher Kaitlyn Kincaid spoke of her introduction to the class of 2023. As a new hire four years ago, and a newly minted class advisor she was asked to join them at Cispus.
"I showed up to camp in the middle of nowhere knowing only [Principal Stephanie] Leitz," she said. "I was fully prepared to get eaten alive by a bunch of eighth graders who didn't have a clue who I was. The first thing that struck me was how friendly and welcoming they were."
She spoke of the hard times and the friendships that were forged, and how she would cherish the memories of those hours watching them sit in a big circle during Mule Success, laughing, talking, and mostly getting their work done.
Before announcing the WHS Faculty Awards, Principal Stephanie Leitz talked about having a job that she loved, and said that is what she wished for the class of 2023, that they would "find a journey, a future, a career" to love and told the class how proud she was of them for "continuing the path to graduation even when faced with great difficulty, life changing trauma, moments of little hope, and a pandemic that only allowed you one regular year of high school."
Tanner Collupy and Reigha Niemeyer received the Excellence in Athletics award, and Sebastian Britt and Miya Kerstetter were recognized for Excellence in Activities/Involvement. Abigail Ames and Adrianna Ashe were given the Outstanding Citizenship award, and Gabe Gumucio and Malia Ana Silva received the Excellence in Leadership award.
Class and faculty speaker Gabe Gumucio, who opened the ceremony with a warm rendition of the national anthem, spoke about teacher Kyle Hurley.
Hurley, he said, was known for ending every interaction with a three word phrase, "make a difference," but Gumucio wanted to talk about something else Hurley would say, "I'm living the dream."
"I was shocked because of the way he said it," Gumucio said. "Like he actually meant it."
Gumucio hoped his classmates would say the same, with meaning and purpose, no matter where they ended up.
"That is the most important thing," Gumucio said. "Not that you make a lot of money, because believe it or not there are many millionaires out there who hate their life, but I wish for all of you to be truly happy. Discover your happiness."
After diplomas were handed out and Superintendent Brent Freeman presented the WHS graduating class of 2023, class valedictorian Reigha Niemeyer spoke to the crowd. She teased her teachers and shared some thoughts from her classmates.
"I never would have made it as far as I have without every single one of you," she said, thanking her teachers, her coaches, her friends, and family.
"This class has remained some of the coolest people I have ever met," Niemeyer said. "The sky's the limit with this class."
Dominic Curl led the class in the Alma Mater, and then the students made their way out of the gym to the tune Midnight City by M83.
The class was offered $2,640,353.33 in scholarships. Niemeyer alone was offered a total of $980,169.33 from several universities throughout the west. Silva was offered $706,112 from a variety of colleges in Washington.
Members of the class plan to attend Washington State University, the Northwest Culinary School, the College of Southern Idaho, Aveda Institute, Lower Columbia College, Volta Lineman College, Oregon Tech Institute, Eastern Washington University, Clark College, the Marine and Environmental Research Training Station (MERTS), Seattle Pacific University, and Clatsop Community College. They plan to study nursing, education, architecture, biology, math, early childhood education, accounting, criminal justice, music, IT, and more. Some are training to be paramedics, massage therapists, and estheticians, or have apprenticeships set up for careers in excavation and labor, as electricians, or tattoo artists. At least one graduate plans to join the U.S. Air Force.
Congratulations to the Wahkiakum High School Class of 2023.