Graduation hats go up as rain comes down

Scott Swanson

An overflow crowd packed Sweet Home High School’s Main Gym Friday night for the Class of 2018’s graduation exercises.

The ceremony was moved indoors after weather reports predicting almost certain rain – which materialized, breaking a dry spell that extended back to mid-April.

Other than a fire alarm that went off during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner by the Concert Band, reportedly triggered by moisture in the swimming pool area, things went smoothly as 132 graduates received their diplomas.

Salutatorian Ally Tow opened the program by admitting that “it’s weird to think that this day is finally here.

“For four years we have been saying things like, ‘I can’t wait to graduate,’ ‘college is going to be so much better than high school,’ ‘how many days until summer?’

“The wait is over and all we have left to do is look forward to the future.”

Tow admitted that she loved high school – going to football and basketball games and playing on the volleyball court with a “full-decked-out student section.”

She recalled some of the more memorable moments of her and her classmates’ time in high school, and noted that “it isn’t these experiences that have to determine the rest of our future. It is the lessons you learn from them and the adjustments you make that make you a better person.”

Tow closed with the rules from Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” such as “Share everything. Play Fair. Don’t Hit People.”

“Sometimes life is complicated and messy,” she told her classmates. “It gets busy and we sometimes lose sight of the things that really matter. If you remember what you learned in kindergarten, you can find life’s simplicity.”

Valedictorian Jake Hindmarsh recounted how “1,375 days ago my mother dragged a scared little freshman into Sweet Home High School” and how he’d accumulated “some great memories” in the interim, including “losing May Week four months in a row” and “almost getting screamed at because I was rollerblading in the hallway.”

“These past four years have been so memorable, I can’t wait to move on with my life,” he added.

Hindmarsh urged his classmates to take some risks, though “I’m not going to advise you to put all your money in one penny stock – that’s not the type of risk I’m talking about. I’m talking about trying new ideas and experiencing new things. Some things you are going to do in life are going to turn out great, some things not so great. To be successful it is important to learn from your failures.”

In addition to performances of “Adagio for Winds” by the band and “Flight Song” by the Symphonic Choir, teacher Steve Thorpe presented the school’s 25th High-Q Award to 1965 graduate Gerald Wodtli (see accompanying story).

Dave McNeil, a “science teacher,” “basketball coach and the beekeeper,” as he described himself, spoke on “Choices” in a keynote address to the graduates.

He noted how he and his wife made a choice to come to Sweet Home, over other options such as Roseburg and Portland.

They made that choice, McNeil said, because it was a small town, “much like where my wife and I grew up, with good, wholesome people; a tight, supportive community; strong family values and good schools.

“These experiences influenced my wife and I so much in a positive light that we decided we wanted the same choice for our son and daughter. This is probably similar to some of you graduates.”

He reminded his listeners that they will henceforth be making nearly 100 percent of the choices that will affect them.

He urged them to surround themselves “with people who will lift you up and support you in your future desires and goals. Some of the biggest choices you will make as an adult have to do with whom you choose as friends.”

He also encouraged them to choose to be “daring and fearless in pursuit of your dreams,” to stand up for things they believe in, to be kind to others, and to become active in their community.

“There will be choices that work out for you and there will be choices that do not,” McNeil said. “Remember this one word of advice: One bad choice does not define you. We, as adults, wear our choices like a map of who we are, where we have been and how we got here.”

McNeil added that he made the right choice by coming to Sweet Home “and my life has been bettered by it” including the chance to get to know those in his audience.

“As I look out on you, I no longer see students; I see friends and I have hundreds of memories from having you in my classes and from being part of your high school experience.”