With so many changes during her four years at Newberg High School, including four different principals and a change in format, senior Grace Starling wanted to create a new tradition that might lend some consistency to future classes.
On behalf of the NHS Associated Student Body Council and in conjunction with classmate Anotonio Peña Anaya, Starling spearheaded the effort to hold the district's first-ever Grad Walk, for which almost every student in the class of 2017 donned their cap and gown to visit their elementary and middle schools.
The graduates-to-be were split into two groups based on which middle school they attended and bussed from building to building on the morning of June 8. They were greeted at each stop by eager students and nostalgic former teachers, who lined up on both sides of the hallway to give them high fives.
"They're always hearing about high school graduation, so you definitely saw the excitement in them, but I honestly think our graduates enjoyed it more and were even more excited," NHS activities director and leadership teacher Mark Brown said. "I saw 18-year-old kids who were just laughing the whole time."
The experience not only sparked trips down memory lane for the high school students, but gave many a chance to connect with former teachers for the first time in years.
Starling herself was touched that her third grade teacher at Crater Elementary, Judy Elliott, came out to cheer on her and others despite having already retired.
"You could see them giving teachers hugs, ones they hadn't seen for a while, and the teachers cheering them on," Dundee Elementary principal Reed Langdon said. "It was just joy all the way around."
Langdon added that it was inspirational for his young students, most of whom looked in awe at the graduates-to-be.
"I think it was impactful for them to see they're going to be there before too long and also that it's attainable," Langdon said. "It's exciting."
Dundee fifth-grade teacher Mary Jane Bachmeier was touched to see several NHS students visit the memorial for Bailey Engels, a former student who died in 2012, as she would have been a member of the class of 2017.
The event also helped the high school students put their graduation into a broader perspective in that it's the end of a 13-year process, not just the past four years. On the flipside, Bachmeier added that it was a nice to broaden to the rest of the district what is often a celebration only for the high school and that it served as a nice reminder for her as a teacher.
"They're all Newberg kids and collectively they're all ours and we need to make sure we support them all," Bachmeier said.