'West Linn strong, West Linn united'
One student broke his neck and femur while skiing. He was almost a paraplegic, but returned to school two months early and finished off his final season of varsity lacrosse. Another student battled cancer, and another was diagnosed with a rare bone and cardiac condition, but both students graduated with a 4.2 GPA and academic honors.
"I'm singling out these individuals because they are living, breathing proof that anyone is capable of anything," said Student Body President Shaylee Hicks. "We all experience challenges in our lives. It's up to us to choose whether we let it defeat us or if we choose to fight through them. ... We are a class defined by our diligence, determination and dedication."
These were just three examples of WLHS "heroes," as referred to by West Linn-Wilsonville Superintendent Kathy Ludwig in her graduation message Tuesday, June 5 at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.
After watching numerous superhero movies over the last year with her 12-year-old son, Ludwig couldn't help but relate the heroes in the movies to the heroes in real-life.
"I know there are a multitude of heroic real-life stories we could tell about people in this room, stories that describe how ordinary people have made an extraordinary impact," said Ludwig, adding that students have raised money for charity, collected food for the food pantry, tutored children, given a voice to the disenfranchised and committed many more acts of heroism. "You stood together, West Linn strong, West Linn united."
Family, friends and community members had cameras in hand and their cheers echoed throughout the center as they prepared to watch 434 students walk across the stage.
Hailey Davis' father, Hugh Davis, sat in the audience, eager to see his daughter receive her diploma. Davis was among the 151 students who graduated with academic honors.
"We've lived in West Linn since 2001 and she's gone through all the schools in West Linn so it's been a great area to live and seeing her graduate is a big accomplishment," he said. "She's graduating with honors so we're very proud of that as well."
For Avery Esau and Morgan Schutzler, graduating WLHS meant they followed in their families' footsteps. Esau's dad graduated from WLHS in 1985 and she said it's been fun to participate in some of the same activities as her father, like being involved with May Day. Schutzler's brother graduated from WLHS in 2011, and her mom graduated in 1985, two years after her father graduated from the school. She also had six aunts and uncles, and five cousins graduate WLHS.
"My family graduating from the same high school as me is so cool to experience. The mere fact that I am going through some of the same exact experiences as them, in the same town that they grew up in is crazy," Schutzler said. "The West Linn community has made a huge impact on my life in many ways. They are all so kind and loving and we are all there for each other no matter what."
And support and community is what Principal Kevin Mills said he saw at the Chiles Center.
"This place fills up because of how many students are committed and dedicated to meeting the requirements and doing what they need to do to be successful and graduate from West Linn High School," Mills said. "We make changes in our school, our community, our society, because of the young individuals that are sitting in this room. They're students who have a voice. These students know they're being heard because when they talk we listen."
Having a voice, being engaged and learning to listen is what Valedictorian Anisha Arcot reminded the student body to do as soon as they walked out of the doors of childhood and into adulthood.
"Like high school, life is not a spectator sport. It only rewards those who are engaged. We have to set goals and constantly commit ourselves to those goals over and over and over again," Arcot said. "Fellow graduates, we have all developed and demonstrated an ability to stay engaged and committed to our goals the last four years. Nurture that ability and it will be the wind beneath our wings as we leave the comfort of childhood behind to head into the turbulent unpredictable winds of adulthood."
WL-WV School Board Chair Ginger Fitch and Distinguished Teacher Nancy Monson also gave powerful speeches that spoke to the character of the students, the high school and the community. There were performances by the WLHS Symphonic Band and the WLHS Symphonic Choir before students were presented with their diplomas and turned their tassels to represent the next chapter of their lives.
"You have shown courage and capability — please don't stop," Ludwig said. "If you'd indulge me in one last witticism: May the force be with you."