At Last, The Finish Line

Benny Westcott

Forecasted rain held off as hundreds of friends and family of Sweet Home High School’s class of 2021 celebrated the graduation of 128 young people after a senior year like no other.

Onlookers sat on Husky field, and more watched from the bleachers.

One of the five valedictorian speakers at the ceremony, Sicily Neuschwander, noted how her class got to experience “not even half” of all the fun senior year experiences many of her peers had been looking forward to for a while.

“It’s disappointing and sad, but we’re still all here today,” Neuschwander said. “We all got through it, overcame every struggle and hardship, and we’re graduating today. We finished everything, did all we could do, and now we’re ready to move on. We’re on to the next chapter of our lives, and ready to continue our journey.”

“High school is always said to be the best four years of your life, but they can also be some of the hardest,” she added, words that seemed truer than ever for this class, who had to navigate constantly shifting high school programming in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

High school staff were applauded at the ceremony for continuing to enrich students’ lives through trying times.

“Teachers this year deserve so much recognition, it’s incomprehensible,” said Valedictorian Treyson Smith. “I can only imagine how hard it was to teach to a bunch of blank screens, and we really appreciate the hard work you all put in.”

Smith also talked about the closeness of the Sweet Home High School community. In preparing his speech, he said “With every bullet point I typed out, every single one had something to do with how close this community is. That’s just the way that it is here. The motto of the high school is true. ‘One town, one school, one family.’ That’s what it feels like with all of my classmates, like a huge family.”

Valedictorian Kailey James echoed his sentiments, saying, “We’ve received an overwhelming amount of support from a community that felt a sharp change in the air, and shifted its sails to continue moving forward.”

One of the most pivotal supporters of the class of 2021 was gone too soon. Melissa Klumph taught mathematics at Sweet Home High School for nearly 20 years before passing away on March 7. Klumph’s college hood and gown sat on a chair at the stage to honor her memory.

“She had a greater positive impact on the lives of present and past graduates of this high school than anyone on this side of heaven,” said Valedictorian Maren Weld.

Neuschwander said Klumph was “an amazing teacher, class advisor, crossfit workout partner, mother, and friend, and she will be missed always.”

As 128 caps flew toward the sky high above Husky Field at the end of the 2021 graduation ceremony, students looked ahead to life beyond Sweet Home High School.

“After this moment, everything changes,” said Smith. “There is no right way to do it anymore, and we aren’t all going to do the same thing. This is where we go our separate ways and create our own paths.”

But Weld reminded everyone that there’s no place like home.

“No matter if we stay in this town the rest of our lives, or venture out into the unknown and never see each other again, we will always have a common thread and a community to fall back on.”