Intimate, emotional graduation leaves 27 Arts and Technology High School students with diplomas

SUBMITTED PHOTO  - Class of 2018 bottom row, left to right: Kyla Babbitt, Caitlin Strader, Ethan Bossen, Samantha Rodriguez, Julia Laws, Justine Jung and Christian Novasio; top row, left to right: Mason Hobbs, Patrick Grundman, Trevor Britt, Griffin Frysinger and Nathan Gonzalez. Not pictured: Emma Baker, Riley Coffey, Laila Dixon, Shea Errett, Jasper Fowler, John Haxhaj, Logan Lee, Dennis Lehninger, Kayla Miles, Dylan Nixon, Adriana Pacheco, Paloma Pahle, Johnny Perez, Jacob Thompson, Kaya Williams and Joshua Wilson.Laila Dixon was one of 27 Arts and Technology High School graduates to walk across the stage June 6 with a story.

A mother of a 3-year-old son, Dixon found that the journey to complete high school was anything but easy. Dixon juggled a job, a complicated home life and raising a child, while committing her time to the goal of graduating early.

"Realistically, a lot of teen parents, they go into it with a baby and they're like, 'This is hard and I can't juggle all of this.' They end up dropping out," said Dixon, adding that once Dixon was pregnant her sister dropped out of high school to take care of her because their mother wasn't in the picture. "I'm just thankful that I persisted through it. I'm kind of doing this more for (my sister), my brother and the

rest of my family more than myself — and for my son of course."

For Emma Baker, she transferred schools a lot and overcame hurdles to make it to graduation day.

"This school really helped me. I'm really happy I'm graduating," she said. "A lot of it was the teachers because they understand the students. They do put you to work but they also make it understandable for you."

These two students represent what West Linn-Wilsonville Superintendent Kathy Ludwig referred to as "heroes" in her graduation message Wednesday, June 6, at The Gregory Forum on the Clackamas Community College's Oregon City campus.

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 volunteered at the Wilsonville Public Library, ran a Red Cross Blood Drive, helped primary school students, made blankets for children at Doernbecher Children's Hospital and committed many more selfless acts. "Thank you for already being change agents in our community."

Emotions were high among students, family, staff and friends after Principal Saskia Dresler kicked off the big day with her graduation message.

"To each and everyone of you, you've reached this graduation day after following your own path and sometimes forging your own way," Dresler said. "You have shaped your hopes and dreams for the future, set goals and high expectations, worked hard, overcome obstacles, embraced the whole Art Tech community of learners and staff. Lastly, you believed in yourself even when success and graduation might have seemed really far off."

For Kaya Williams' uncle, Rodney Kesler, seeing his niece graduate was important to him.

"It means so much," Kesler said. "Everything she's put her heart and efforts into to get to this point, (makes me) just so happy and proud of her."

After WL-WV School Board Chair Ginger Fitch shared two of Aesop's Fables about the importance of friendship and sticking with your purpose, every student received a tribute by a teacher as they stood up to receive their diploma — tears were shed and hugs were plentiful.

When music teacher Matt Whitehead called Griffin Frysinger center stage, the educator said that initially the only thing he knew about Frysinger was that he was tall, he had long fingers and that he liked computers and guitar. But since guitar frustrated the teen, Whitehead recommended the bass.

"Over the course of a year and a half — I'm going to try not to cry — (Griffin) has turned into an amazing bass player, so much to the point that (normally) I have a rule that I never let my students play my instruments. What do I always let you play?" Whitehead said, leaving Frysinger to answer: "Your awesome five-string bass."

"I can show him a technique and he will learn it and drive it into the ground," Whitehead said. "Thank you for letting me share a little piece of my life (with) you."

Math teacher Annette Shoemaker, who called Kaya Williams up, talked about the growth she's seen within the teen.

"It's your junior and senior years that I want you to remember the most. That's when the Kaya I know and love really came into her own," Shoemaker said. "It seemed like over the summer you transferred into a young woman who knew who she was and would not be defined by anyone but herself. You have an, 'I am woman, hear me roar vibe' and it was awesome. Congratulations on being the first immediate family member to graduate from high school and the first one in your entire family to go to college."

Aside from the tributes, Jacob Thompson, Julia Laws and Christian Novasio gave speeches.

Novasio said that Art Tech was the light at the end of the tunnel for him.

"I couldn't see it at first. I was a stranger. I was lost and wandering, looking for the horizon in all the wrong places but these teachers — no, no — these friends of mine pulled me out of there. They gave me a chance; they gave me a second chance at everything; they gave me my redemption and they put me here on this stage," he said. "How do you thank someone for a second life? You live it to its fullest; you make the most of the gift. Friends, family, peers, from this day forward I promise to live my life to the fullest and to be better than the man I was the day before."

Ludwig credited the students for showing immense courage and capability.

"If you'd indulge me in one last witticism: May the force be with you," Ludwig said.

Wilsonville Spokesman reporter Clara Howell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281.

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