Richie Fults was 17 years old and had already devoted two years of his life to high school when the classmates with whom he would later graduate joined him as freshman. The special needs student needed six years, not the typical four, to file into the same Henderson Stadium graduation line down which he had watched two of his previous classes walk.
On June 4, he walked too.
And when the student speaker called his name to stand on the stage and accept the certificate for which he had worked so long, his 257 classmates and the audience of roughly 2,500 friends and family erupted into the most enthusiastic applause of the ceremony.
The applause followed all of the 258 graduates as they accepted their diplomas at with handshakes and sometimes hugs, while blanketed in the last evening hours of a week’s worth of summertime weather.
Minutes earlier, in her graduation speech, Treshia Sewell urged her classmates to reject the monetary measure of success and instead, measure their own self worth with characteristics such as compassion and patience. Daniela Najera delivered her graduation speech in Spanish.
The ceremony featured 12 valedictorians, including Henry Burton, a future student of the prestigious Massachusetts Williams College and claimant to the highest score on the American High School Math Exam.
Burton was just one of two male valedictorians – the other being Peter Dills – who managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average throughout the four years of high school.
This is a continuance of a trend in Hood River Valley High School.
“I think it has a lot to do with expectations,” said Hood River Valley High School valedictorian coordinator Jennifer Schlosser to the question of why female valedictorians consistently outnumber their male counterparts. “Girls are much more involved in things. Being leaders. Running things.”
The last time Hood River males earned even close to as many valedictorian titles as did the females was in 1998. Then, Hood River presented four male valedictorians and five females. 1999, however, triggered a three-year drought, during which the classes of 1999, 2000 and 2001 failed to produce a single male valedictorian. During that same three-year time period, 23 females were honored as valedictorians.
Currently, grade point average is the single measure the school uses to determine its valedictorians. But starting with the 2006 academic year, the high school will consider class difficulty and grade point average.
After the ceremony, a handful of graduates answered how they felt about finishing school and what they were going to do with their brand-new independence. Here is how they responded:
Jon Wherry – “Oh. (sigh). It's exciting. I can be charged as an adult now. And I can register to vote.”
Pepe Contreras – “It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to the next step – college.” (Contreras is the first in his family to graduate).
Ben Holmes – “It’s kind of weird, actually. But right now, I’m pretty excited. I’m just glad to be done with it.”
John Logan – “It definitely lived up to the hype and excitement. I’m going to be a real firefighter now. I’m going to Portland Community College or to Central Oregon Community College.”
Gary Rawlings – “It’s a lot of fun. I’m just glad I made it through graduation without this embarrassing story being told about me – getting stuck in the playground equipment at Westside Elementary School.”
Jake Pruitt – “It was pretty exciting. I’m ready for college and for the Air Force. I hope everyone does well in life. It’s gonna be hard losing touch with them.”
Nancy Rodriguez-Ortega – “I feel free. I’m going to a culinary arts school in Portland. Then I’ll be a chef.”
Chris Perry – “It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders. But it’s kind of sad, how tight our class is, you know. I’m moving in with my brother in Portland and going to go the community college there.”
Andy Rust – “Right now it’s overwhelming. You look forward to graduation all of high school. Now that it’s happened and everybody’s talking about moving. You want it back. All those memories. You want them back. I’m going to Oregon State University to study agriculture business management. I want to be a farmer. Somebody’s got to feed the world.”
Nelle Smith – “I’m going to be successful for the rest of my life. I’m going to a Portland college. I don’t know which one. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter.”
Alex Lozano – “I don’t know how it feels. I guess it feels good to move on. It’s a change. I’m going to PSU (Portland State University). My time has come. Now it’s somebody else’s time to shine.”
Jodie Pounders – “It feels odd. It doesn’t feel real. Surreal. You know. It doesn’t feel sad, but yeah. It does. I’m going to study journalism at Portland State.”
Samantha Wade – “It hasn’t really hit me yet. It’s exciting and scary. Scary because the future is unknown. I’m going to Western Oregon University. Moving away from my friends. That part is really sad. But it will be fun too, because we’ll always get together.”
Liz Jeffries – “I feel happy and excited. Sad that it’s the end. But there’s more ahead. I’m going to Mount Hood Community College.”