Good-bye, Class of 2010

With warm memories and some wise parting advice from two beloved coaches and teachers, the Class of 2010 said good-bye to Sweet Home High School Friday night.

The graduation ceremonies returned to Husky Stadium after being held the previous two years in the Main Gymnasium due to foul weather. But nearly two weeks of heavy rainfall ended Friday morning and the skies were clear for this year’s graduation ceremonies.

Senior class representative John Webb welcomed the crowd, thanking “all of our friends, family, parents and teachers” for helping the seniors achieve goals and, “most of all, thank you for believing in all of our crazy ideas, but above all of those, thank you for believing in us.”

Assisting in the welcome, Leah Dauley urged her classmates to “not be sad that our high school time is over, but celebrate because it has happened. In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it’s happened.'”

The two-hour ceremony was peppered with memories and charges from the five valedictorians and two salutatorians €“ with frequent references to the need to be brief and drawing frequent laughter. Another frequent theme throughout the night was the importance of relationships.

“There are so many people who supported us in many different ways, without asking for anything in return,” Valedictorian Levi Marchbanks said. “Things such as donations to the school, goody bags for sporting events, and especially all the hours people have spent volunteering their time to make the Class of 2010 successful. I hope that when our time comes around, we will become the same kind of giving people.”

Principal Pat Stineff noted that this class has stood out in the history of the school, collecting more than $800,000 in college scholarships.

“We’re very proud of them for that,” she said, adding that a record 46 of the 149 seniors finished with Certificates of Initial Mastery, meaning they have exceeded state standards in every subject in which they were tested.

Valedictorian Alisha Huschka urged her fellow graduates to press on.

“We will disperse from here tonight and not see the majority of our fellow graduates,” she said. “As we head into the future, do not be afraid; embrace it. After all, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Valedictorian Eric Holmes recalled some of his “learning experiences” in high school, relating how he and his fellow students mistakenly thought they’d take advantage of a young substitute teacher in chemistry class, who “to be quite honest, was quite attractive” but turned out to be “mean, strict and a terrible teacher,” how he stayed out very late the night before his SAT test, forgetting all about it, and other episodes.

The “tough lessons” taught him “one important truth,” he said: “Don’t be afraid to go out and experience life; it may lead you down some tough paths but it will always give you a great story on Monday morning and if that ain’t the most important thing, I don’t what is.”

On a more serious note, Salutatorian Cory Ellingboe reminded the crowd that “high school is a great accomplishment, but if that is all that you do, you will most likely not make it very far in today’s world,” urging his colleagues to “always have a plan and a goal for the future and never be afraid to take the next step.”

Valedictorian Jayce Calhoon told the crowd that all he wanted to do was thank his teachers for their “patience whenever we struggle and your praises when we succeeded” and parents’ “hard work and investments you’ve put into us.

“If there is one piece of advice I have to give it’s that the body can accomplish what the mind can achieve,” said Calhoon, who is set to attend the University of Wyoming on a swimming scholarship. “If you can dream it, you can do it. And congratulations, Class of 2010. We did it.”

It wasn’t all roses, as Valedictorian Kieran Schaefer and Salutatorian Celena Westfall pointed out.

Schaefer reminded his fellow graduates how they missed out on the Pride Trip because they lost too many points to unexcused absences and tardies.

“We learned our lesson, to say the least,” he said.

Chemistry teacher Cheryll Munts was referred to by more than one of the speakers, who clearly respected her €“ as Westfall put it, Munts is “the most feared lady to ever grace the halls of Sweet Home High School, as well as the teacher who gave her her “first and only B.”

Class President Andrew Winslow, who was also a valedictorian, roasted some of his fellow seniors with a list of the “Top Keys to Success, which ranged from Ellingboe’s use of the fact “that all the teachers liked your older sister when she went to school to your advantage” to “sleep through 50 percent of your classes” (Schaefer) to Stay up all night working on your lawn mower so that you can’t concentrate on anything the next day (Eric Munts).”

In addition to several numbers by the high school band, with some eighth-graders helping out, the Symphonic Choir performed “Steps in Life,” a composition by Josh Lowe, who graduated Friday.

Stineff presented a diploma to military veteran Gene Eddie Bennett, whose high school career was interrupted by service in the U.S. Navy from 1962 to 1965 and the Naval Reserve from 1965 to 1968.

Bennett is the seventh military veteran to receive a diploma from Sweet Home, made possible by Senate Bill 374, Stineff said, noting that two of his grandchildren, Christina and Joshua McLean, also were graduating Friday.

The High-Q Award of Merit for Outstanding Performance or Endeavors, the most prestigious honor given by the high school, was presented for the first time since 2006. This year there were two recipients, athlete Dakotah Keys and local firms, Fun Forest and Melcher Logging, operated by Sweet Home graduates Mike Melcher, Scott Melcher and Jim Cota, and formerly by Robbie Melcher, who died earlier this year.

Keys is a junior national decathlon champion who carried the Huskies to three straight track and field state titles during his high school career, and has signed to compete in the sport for the University of Oregon next year. Due to some confusion at the podium, he did not get an opportunity to give a thank-you speech.

Scott Melcher, speaking for the company, thanked the school for the award.

“By working hard and risking your efforts, you can, before you know what the consequences will be, often reap rewards,” he told the graduates, adding that quality relationships with others are also crucial to negotiating life’s ups and downs.

“Above all, we believe it is the relationships you hold with others that you will find the most fulfilling.”

Keynote speakers were Rob Younger, who is retiring after 30 years as a teacher and head football coach for many of those years, and Steve Thorpe.

Younger gave an emotional talk to the graduates €“ and the crowd €“ about the importance of community and building strong relationships, particularly family relationships.

He told several stories of his experiences in Sweet Home, including one about when he was a self-confident young football coach who took a job with the Huskies but told Principal Dick Price that he probably would only stay for a couple of years before moving to a larger school.

Younger said Price responded: “I think you will find that there are some special people in Sweet Home.”

In his first game as a coach at Sweet Home, Younger was kicked out by officials at halftime, he said, due to a variety of circumstances that weren’t all under his control. As defensive coordinator for the team, he was the only one who knew the signals. It was halftime and there was panic in the air.

Younger said he was standing in the parking lot on the north end of the field when Fire Marshal Keith Gabriel walked up, put a firefighter’s hat on his head and a firefighter’s coat on Younger, who then stood on the sideline as a firefighter for the rest of the game (and called the defensive signals).

He said Gabriel’s comment was “We take care of each other.”

Younger recounted how, when his first wife died of breast cancer in 1985, leaving him with two small children, dinners were provided every night for two months by people in the community.

“During the many good times, I have had a chance to share them with many special people and during the sad times, many individuals have stepped up to not only help me through them but to also help me develop and refine my character as I went through those times,” he said.

Younger said he has had many opportunities to leave for bigger schools and better job opportunities, but he has never done so.

“In many ways, I am who I am because of the people of Sweet Home,” he said.

He reminded the crowd of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and the sacrifices made by characters in that story, in which Ryan ends by asking, as he stands at the grave of the leader of the soldiers who rescued him earlier in the film, “Did I live a good life?”

Younger told graduates that his purpose was to help them answer that question.

He urged them to develop quality relationships with friends that go below the surface and to work to be good parents and to develop true, loving relationships with their spouses.

He said he regularly asks students what they wish they could see most in their parents and the answer “overwhelmingly” is “that they would love each other.”

“The best thing you can do for your child is to love your spouse and let them grow up in a stable, loving home,” Younger said.

“You want to be happy over the next 50 years? The best advice I can give you is to choose your spouse very wisely.

“Life is meant to be shared, Experiencing life together includes unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical serving and sacrificial giving. You want a happy marriage? Find someone who is willing to act in your best interest rather than themselves. A man and a woman in a servant-like relationship will lead to a marriage that will last.”

He also urged students to develop a relationship with God, saying that knowing Jesus Christ would help them achieve loving relationships with their children and their spouses.

Thorpe, who was one of Younger’s students in the 1980s, challenged the graduates to persevere through difficulties, relating a story about how he and a friend got lost on an elk-hunting trip on Cone Peak, above Tombstone Pass, and had to walk some 25 miles through treacherous terrain in the dark, in rain and sleet, to safety.

“There will be times over the next few months, few years or next 50 years when you will be lost on Cone Peak,” he told the students. “Don’t quit!”

Whether they are in the military, at college, in a tough spot in their marriages, in a hospital with a sick child, or “when you think you have got where you need to be but realize the sign says four more miles €“ don’t quit.

“I promise you this,” he concluded: “In your life you will find yourself in a storm, but if you follow my advice, you can weather that storm and have the rewards of friendship, family and security.”