NHS students ride off into the sunset
High school graduations are an annual rite that often follows the same pattern. Kids walk in their caps and gowns, family members cheer, teachers and administrators give speeches about going forth into a bright future. It's a tradition that doesn't change much.
This year, the ceremony at Newberg High School and schools throughout the country looked a lot different. The COVID-19 pandemic forced classes online in March and students have been unable to gather at the school since. Even as they walked across the stage on Friday and Saturday, much had changed from previous versions of the event.
Students, some wearing protective masks, walked one at a time across a makeshift stage in the school's south parking lot to receive their diplomas from their teachers and administrators while families hooted and hollered from the car. There were no bleachers holding family members sporting signs and taking photos.
NHS' graduation was of the drive-thru variety, a far cry from the usual ceremony but a celebration nonetheless.
"I'm just so grateful that our school was able to do this drive-thru graduation," salutatorian Della Thurman said. "I know so many other schools aren't even getting that and with a lot going on I'm glad our school is making the best of a bad situation."
The Class of 2020 graduates into a world hampered by COVID-19 and economic uncertainty, and a country wrestling with issues like police brutality and racial inequality. Protests line the streets and political controversy flashes across the news on a daily basis, all while life has been turned upside down by a global pandemic.
But a weekend of celebration allowed Newberg's graduating class to reflect on the past and look forward to the future, all while the community cheered them on for their achievements during an adverse time. In addition to the graduation ceremony, which was streamed online for those who couldn't attend the drive-thru event, the school organized a "parade of graduates" that weaved through Newberg.
Horns honked, onlookers in masks cheered and the community embraced its youngest adults.
"I think the school did a really good job trying to keep everyone involved and having high energy," Thurman said. "I'm grateful for this community and glad we're still able to have these experiences despite everything going on."
With her involvement in National Honor Society, two years of volleyball and four years of band, Thurman – who will attend Oregon State University in the fall – was among a group of salutatorians and valedictorians who left their mark on NHS. There were 17 valedictorians in total and three salutatorians.
Joining Thurman among the latter was Macy Schowalter, Newberg's most recent junior citizen of the year and the former CEO of Tiger Manufacturing – a student-run machine shop at NHS that functions as a professional business. Schowalter was also involved in Future Farmers of America and the Chehalem Valley Watershed project, among other extracurricular endeavors.
Schowalter said the ending to her senior year was weird, but not as stressful as it could have been.
"It was definitely less stressful than in-person classes, but we still stuck with it even if we had less assignments to turn in," Schowalter said. "The only classes we really had to work hard in were AP classes, because we still had to take the AP tests. It was a wild ride to finish those classes."
The opportunity to walk across the stage, despite the changes and restrictions, is something Schowalter said she is grateful for. With her family's support now and into the future, she will attend Montana State University in the fall, exploring potential careers in education or science.
What Schowalter said she will remember most about attending NHS – beyond how her senior year ended, the graduation itself or the parade – is how her involvement in extracurricular activities and dedication in the classroom shaped her worldview.
"I got super involved with extracurriculars and classes at NHS, and I think it changed my entire perspective about high school," she said. "A lot of people, after they graduated, always talk about how high school was awful, and while I agree that there are always a few bumps in the road, I thought the experience was really fun and memorable. I will always be grateful for my time at NHS and the people I met who I wouldn't have known otherwise."
NHS' other valedictorians and salutatorians include Annika Sellke, Paul Sperling, Brandow Barlow, Madison Korkeakoski, Lia Reid, Nathan Waldal, Claire Novak, Adam Broce, Hunter Melahn, Osmand Evans, Kenna Roth, Ryan Harber, Kaitlin Stilp, Weston Vaughn, Jonathan Jacobs, Elise Lam, Kathryn Lawson and Emma Mabry.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.