So long, Sweet Home High

Sean C. Morgan

See more photos from Graduation and the SAFE Party!

Sweet Home High School graduated 154 seniors this year, with most walking in a ceremony Friday evening, June 7.

“To all those graduating today, I recommend you begin thinking of someone who has helped you get here, whether it be a family member, staff member or friend, to thank after this ceremony has been completed,” said Valedictorian Madelynn Neuschwander, kicking off the ceremony.

Keynote speaker Michelle Snyder, who teaches biology at the high school, said she gave a speech at her own graduation 31 years ago.

“I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Snyder said. “But one thing I knew I would never be was a teacher. As you can see, I am still working on what I want to be when I grow up.”

Going forward, graduates may have plans, but Snyder suggested they needn’t worry if they don’t work out.

“Good news,” she said.”You can make a new plan. It is never too late to make a plan. I understand. It can be scary, but you cannot let fear govern your decision. You cannot let fear win. Fear is a bully, and bullies back down when you face them.”

Failure is not forever, and mistakes do not “define you,” she said. “Learn from them. Grow from them. It was a mistake that led me to teaching.”

She had to move home when she ran out of money, Snyder said. A family friend helped sign her up to be a teacher, and she was hooked. She made a decision and a new plan.

Snyder said she can sympathize with graduates struggling with their plans.

“Three years ago, I left a town and school I had been part of for 20 years. When we made the choice to move, I worried about making friends and what if my new students don’t like me. You guys were my first group here. You made me feel so welcome. You buckled down and worked hard when we were learning tough stuff – Hey, my regular bio kids, remember the day I told you that you were actually in honors bio? It is one of my favorite memories. You guys all smiled and were so proud.”

As the Class of 2019 leaves SHHS, Snyder said, she can assure the class of a few things.

“You will find people,” she said. “You will fit in. You will find your new place in the world. Change is scary; but sometimes, change can bring amazing things. Change is what brought me to Sweet Home so I could be blessed to meet all of you.”

Zech Brown, son of Principal Ralph Brown cooked up a senior prank for his father, distributing super balls to each of the graduates who received their diplomas following Snyder’s address.

Nearly every student told him, “Mr. Brown, I have something for you,” and handed Brown one of the super balls as he handed the student a diploma. Brown said. He started putting them in his pockets, but those were soon overwhelmed. Fortunately for him, the ends of the sleeves of us robes had a pocket-like space, and he was able to tuck them away.

Austin Olin opened the valedictorian speeches.

“Although I’m still not sure how to file my taxes or manage my own bank account, I can tell you that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,” said Olin, one of seven valedictorians this year. “Like many of you in the audience believe, I myself used to think that some things I learned in school were pointless. ‘When am I going to use this?’ I would constantly complain.

“But as I look back at all I’ve done, I’ve realized a simple truth. It was never about the work that we were completing. It was about the strong work ethic, perseverance and dedication that our teachers were reinforcing within us.”

He urged his fellow graduates to find the motivation to be the best they can be. He said he found his in being better than his sister and thanked her “for being such tough competition and always inspiring me to be a better person.”

Valedictorian Ella Parker told “every teacher who had me in their class, I’m sorry.

“I know you made a rubric. I know the project was supposed to be done today, and I’m still sitting here asking, “Well, like, what kind of paper should I print it on?’ And I’m sorry, Ms. (Michelle) Snyder. I still don’t know what an amniote is. It’s something to do with eggs?”

She also noted the lifelong impact that art teacher Autumn Almanza had on her, thanked her family for “sticking with me when I cried over ridiculous things and passed out as soon as I got home” and her parents for making her high school years fantastic and keeping her sane.

Valedictorian Kennedi Waldrop said her mother’s stories about high school fueled her excitement, recalling a story about Brad Sehnef blowing up the chemistry lab and later becoming a pilot on Air Force Two, and the time her mother’s class moved all of their desks outside because the teacher was late.

“I knew I wanted to make some memories for myself, some that I could share someday,” Waldrop said.

She and salutatorian Lace-Anna Shiffert shared some they had gathered over the four years of high school.

During freshman year, Shiffert recalled, “we had no idea what was going on. And we were freshies, so nobody wanted to help us. We were young and immature and tried too hard to fit in, and then we started to grow up.”

They recalled a lightsaber duel with one of their favorite teachers, Snyder, in which students fought to earn the title of “True Jedi,” and Hayden McDonald was the only one to beat Snyder.

Snyder denied losing that battle.

Shiffert and Waldrop gave a shout out to fellow graduate Jake Swanson and to Dillon Stutzman of the Class of 2017, whose performance of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” had the Milli Vanilli audience that year laughing so hard that everyone was crying.

As juniors, Waldrop and Shiffert said, they started putting themselves through college level classes, causing tears and addiction to coffee. Classmates became Sportsman’s Holiday princesses, and Shahalie Erickson was chosen queen. The juniors went to their first prom, the same day as the district track meet, and they asked if anyone could forget fellow Valedictorian Sidney Hooley’s performance as Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

In their senior year, Sweet Home won the league championships in football and volleyball, and the forestry team won the state title. The English class created a series of videos to represent each of the “Canterbury Tales.”

Their class was the back-to-back May week champion, they noted, and their powder puff team was undefeated.

“Today, we celebrate our achievements from the last four years,” said Valedictorian Sarah Hewitt. “But I would like to focus on what we need to achieve in the next 11 years. That’s how long climate scientists have given us, 11 years to avoid catastrophic climate change. It’s already damaging our homes, our health, our safety and our happiness. We won’t let it take our futures too.

“Our diplomas say Class of 2019, but marked in history, we are the Class of Zero. Zero emissions. Zero excuses. Zero time to waste. Across the country our class stands 7.5 million strong. In unity, we’re giving our leaders a choice, to give us a plan to get to zero emissions or get zero of our votes. Together, we have the power to solve the climate crisis. Every student. Every parent. Every teacher. Every leader. The future is in our hands.”

She urged her classmates to embrace their responsibility, whether simply voting or extending a hand to someone in need or developing the next fossil-free technology.

“We have the tools,” Hewitt said. “We have the solutions. We have the facts and endless knowledge at our disposal. Let us put our goodwill, our energy and our time to the best use for all humankind.”

Valedictorians Alisha Isabell and Sidney Hooley spoke about turning to the next chapter in life.

“As always, some of us are very ready,” Hooley said. “Others not so much. But it’s no surprise. Being an adult can be terrifying and full of questions, like, ‘Where am I gonna work? How do I do laundry? How much is too much when you’re eating ice cream for breakfast? Where are my shoes?’”

“Rest assured, we have no idea either,” Isabell said. “But the definite plan includes eating ice cream for breakfast. No matter how many questions you have, now is the time to trudge on and get some answers.”

“We know it sounds like a broken record, but this day marks the start of a new and explorative part of our lives, and not a single one of us will end in the same place,” Hooley said. “Yet all of us have one thing in common, and it’s the experience of Sweet Home High School.”

Hooley recalled hearing Parker Lemmer’s chicken story “one too many times,” Jake Swanson’s leather pants at the 2019 edition of Milli Vanilli and counting on Aliyah Boss and Nicole Grady to do Lover’s Leap at assembly.

“Staff members helped us learn the most important things in life, including the Pythagoras Theorem, the mitochondria and deodorant,” Isabell said.

“It went by fast, just like our parents said it would,” Waldrop said. “Endings are inevitable, leaves fall and you close the book. Today is one of those days for all of us. But as Winnie the Pooh said, ‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’”