A soggy send off
There was a little pomp, some circumstance, and a whole lot of weather.
Newberg High School's Class of 2022, their families and friends braved the elements on Friday evening for the first fully in-person ceremony in three years.
"We were able to hold an in-person ceremony with graduates and staff only last year, but this is the first time since 2019 that we are back with graduates, staff and spectators. It feels great," vice-principal Mark Brown, an organizer of the ceremony, said in an email. "It has been fun to be back in-person for several of the senior celebrations …"
Due to the sheer number of onlookers, what the school couldn't provide was a dry place to witness the proceedings. Torrents of rain descended on the unlucky hundreds too late to find a spot in the covered grandstands and relegated to the open track of Loran Douglas Field. The grads, luckily, enjoyed the cover of two large canopies and remained relatively dry until they were called to the stage to accept their diplomas or otherwise take part in the ceremony.
All told, Brown said, the 111th graduating class of students from NHS, as well as those from Catalyst and Chehalem Online Academy, totaled 342 students.
"We are excited to be back in person and spend time together, as a community, celebrating our students," he added. "They have worked so hard this year, and especially in coming through the COVID distance learning situation, we are incredibly proud of these students …"
The ceremony opened with musical interludes by the school's symphonic band, the graduates' processional onto the football pitch, the singing of the National Anthem by graduating senior Breanna Schmidt and a stirring rendition of Hozier's "Parting Glass" by the school's symphonic choir.
Tami Erion delivered the principal's address, saying "I honor our seniors for navigating what has been perhaps three of the most challenging years of their lives. They have faced uncertainty and change as our nation and world faced a pandemic that shifted our way of life for much longer than we could have predicted. I extend my deep admiration for these young people for how they have endured the challenges unfathomable by many who came before them. You seniors are remarkable individuals."
Brown then took the stage to honor those NHS students who didn't make it to graduation due to their untimely deaths: Hayden Fredrickson, Arvin Gamboa, Madison Kaatz and Simon Mushombe.
"We are saddened that these four students will not be with us here to celebrate what would have been their high school graduation," he said, explaining that four large yellow roses had been erected before the stage to honor the fallen students. "Although we grieve their absence, we celebrate the many memories we have to hold to from the many good times that we were able to share with them."
The crowd then stood for a moment of silence to honor the lost students.
Tim Burke recognized the graduates who had achieved special honors, including those named to the National Honor Society and who earned the Oregon State Seal of Biliteracy.
As in past years, students chose the featured speaker at the ceremony. This year it was beloved theater teacher Michael McConaughey.
"We have the Senior Choice Award where the seniors nominate staff members and then vote on who they want to represent them as a class and give the speech at graduation," Brown said. "The winner gets to wear and keep a gown signed (by) all the graduates in the Class of 2022."
McConaughey didn't disappoint his nominators
"You are sitting here today because you persevered," he said. "It's astonishing to think what you have overcome. That is no small feat. Do not take that for granted or take it lightly. Know you have succeeded.
"That said, you're not done. … Where you have been, who you have been, all get a bit of a reset. It's a new start. … We may know exactly where we are going, or we may not have a clue what next week looks like. …
"My first challenge to you is to live out who you are. You are important, you are worthy, you are enough just the way you are. And not only that, you are exceptional."
Valedictorian Amelia Bayha, one of seven, summed up the sentiments of many of her fellow graduates as the deluge continued: "Congratulations everyone, we made it out alive. We woke up and showed up to class. We ate our last lunch in the cafeteria. We finished the last test. We submitted that last essay that was due at 11:59 p.m. We turned out the lights after staying up late studying. We worked our last shift on a school night, dreading the schoolwork we still had to do when we got home. We got one last slip in that we needed our mom to sign, but then we remembered that we are 18 and signed it ourselves."
Before the newly-hired school superintendent, Dr. Stephen Phillips, the sometimes controversial school board, the administration of the high school, friends, family and others, Erion presented the graduates and she and others began distributing diplomas adorned in the school colors of blue and gold.
The tassels switched to signify their accomplishments, the grads tossed their mortar boards high into the grey skies as the symphonic band played the recessional, marking an end to the annual rite of passage.
Then grads, friends and family alike headed to the school's gymnasium to dry off and bask in the warmth of a job well done.
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