Graduation: What counts is the diploma, congratulations from family and friends, and the hugs, tears, and bouquets of balloons or flowers.

Those are things savored and remembered, not really the weather, though the weather was memorable for Hood River Valley Class of 2019 and their families.

Rain and wind welcomed Friday night’s proceedings, and a prominent rainbow graced the event as 326 Eagle seniors crossed the stage at Henderson Stadium.

The next day at Horizon Christian School, the indoor ceremony brought a new chapter of life to 19 members of the Hawk Class of 2019.

A bright world ahead for HRVHS graduates 

Despite a bit of wind and a lot of rain, the Hood River Valley High School Class of 2019 began its graduation ceremony on June 7 a few minutes after 6 p.m. As “Pomp and Circumstance” filled the stadium on loop, the graduates, awash head to toe in navy blue caps and gowns, marched along the football field and down towards the visitor bleachers, where they would overlook a crowd of proud family members. As each graduate came to pass the crowd, their smiles were wide and their excitement palpable; clouds hung overhead but, on that field, the world was bright.

Following a lovely performance of the National Anthem by the Senior Chamber Singers, Principal Rich Polkinghorn and Vice Principal Columba Jones gave a brief welcome speech in English and Spanish, respectively. They spoke of the journey the graduates had taken to arrive at that moment, and the lives they would lead going forth. The Volunteer of the Year award was next up, presented by School Board Chair Chrissy Reitz and Vice Chair Rich Truax, and awarded to Michael McElwee. The student body then offered their own welcome speech, courtesy of Montsie Garrido in English and Gladys Bolaños and Rosa Serrano in Spanish. Together the three celebrated the achievements of their class, from the first timid day of freshman year to the present, where they would be sent forth into the world.

A presentation of HRVHS’s exchange students and valedictorians followed, with Vice Principal Kyle Rosselle acknowledging the three exchange students and their academic achievements across cultures and language, and Polkinghorn commending the dozens of qualified students who maintained 4.0 GPAs throughout high school and were certified valedictorians. As the valedictorians returned to their seats, graduate Kelsey Stewart stepped to the stage as one of the class speakers. Her speech that followed was a unique, hilarious and heartfelt reflection on the procession through life that her and her peers had taken thus far, and the one they would continue on. She gracefully stepped from recalling humorous memories of high school to commenting on the looming world that lay before the graduates, all the while stamping her words with a style and delivery that demonstrated its genuine nature. As she concluded, she received an eruption of applause from the audience. Stewart was followed by Juan Chamonica and Maritza Medina for the Spanish version, which was me with equivalent response.

The Senior Chamber Singers took to the mic once again, this time to perform the selected Graduation Song — “Remember Me” from Disney/Pixar’s Coco. The song tugged at the already tender heartstrings of parents and family alike, and just in time for Superintendent Dan Goldman to give his approval to the class and begin the awarding of diplomas.

As the final few students received their diplomas and returned to the stands, Emily Curtis, President of the Associated Student Body, instructed her peers through the tassel ceremony, cementing their transition from students to graduates. The newly moved tassels enjoyed their moment for a few mere seconds before the graduates collectively removed their caps and tossed them into the air in classic celebration. They descended from the stands and joined their families on the field for hugs, photos and a final farewell to their school.

‘Run Your Race,’ Horizon grads encouraged

“Got your track shoes, we’re ready to roll,” Oscar Stenberg told the Class of 2019 at Horizon Christian School Saturday.

It was his last official talk after four decades at Horizon, dating to his start in 1977 as head of students at the private school then called Baptist Christian.

First to speak were 2019 graduates Kaitlin Wenz and Marena Decker, who both called up personal experiences in exhorting their classmates to pursue their dreams, prepare for disappointment as well as fulfillment, and to sustain their faith.

Stenberg, who is retiring after 42 years in teaching, showed a black tube to the grads: A track baton.

“I’d like to stress the importance to the school family, parents and the tremendous school-board and staff, and to you seniors, the significance of passing on the baton,” said Stenberg, who has coached numerous sports at the school, in addition to teaching.

He focused on a Bible passage that addresses “the valuable things the older wants to pass on to the younger” — 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. But, set an example for the believers in your speech, in your  conduct, in your love, in your faith, and in your purity.”

In these words, Stenberg said, the Apostle Paul is passing on the baton to Timothy. Stenberg paraphrased, “Talk is cheap. Show yourself to be an example of a believer in your speech.”

Stenberg’s son, Stephen, also spoke to the students.

“Run your race,” Stephen said, drawing on his running experience, including this year’s Boston Marathon.

Stephen, seventh of nine children of Oscar and Helen Stenberg, is a member of the first Horizon class to graduate in the new building, in 2007. He earned his civil engineering degree from Oregon State University, and works as licensed engineer in Portland. He and his wife, Rachel, were married in 2012, and they have a daughter, Harper.

“Anyone anxious?” he asked the grads-to-be.

“Me, too. I have a one-year-old who’s discovering her emotions.

“You will go through different kinds of seasons in your lives, and they will be filled with different kinds of emotions. You are all entering a very special season now, as I am as a brand new dad, and my dad is Mr. Stenberg, who you can now call Oscar.”

“I look up to him not just as a father, but as a mentor in life. If I say much more I’ll probably get emotional,” Stephen joked.  “Thanks for that gene, Dad. No one wants to see that. So, Pops, congratulations on retirement. I love you.”

Stephen asked the graduates, “What does this next season of life mean to you and what can you do to make the most of it?

“Each of you has been uniquely designed by God and he has something special in store for you.”

He added a bit of cyber-era humor as he continued:

“Some of you will head to college, others into the work force, and the rest of you will most likely become professional Fortnite streamers. Whatever you choose to do it is so important you identify with who God has designed you to be.

“My primary message to you today is to run your race. Not the person to your right or to your left, but your race. It is so challenging to do, especially in the digital age we live in, with the swipe of a thumb on any social media platform you can immediately ... just  hit this, just swipe here ... and say, ‘I want to do what he or she is doing’ or ‘If I just made a little more money,’ or — you fill in the blank. I will say it is not a bad thing to be motivated by  other peoples’ success, but it is too easy to drift away from what God intends you to be and become something else, to do something else, or do what the world says is right.

“The main problem with this is that it typically results in disappointment or hurt. And God doesn’t want that for you,” Stephen said.

Wenz told of how her family had considered leaving the community for her to attend school elsewhere, but the school contacted her parents and she was offered the opportunity to attend Horizon.

“When God closes one door, another always opens,” she said.

Her senior year proved to be a challenging one, with the deaths of several people close to her, including a friend named James, who she said in life had taught her many lessons.

“I learned from him that our actions will leave a ripple effect. No matter what you think of yourself, you’ve changed someone’s world and taught them much more than you’ll ever know.”

She said she learned “our actions reflect who we are as students, and our time here is limited.”

“Dig deep into your faith and be passionate about what you want to pursue,’,” Wenz said.

She cited one of her main mentors at Horizon — Oscar Stenberg.

“He challenges us all to dig deeper in our faith, and teaches us to be joyful and how to walk in our faith and how to love.”

In life, Wenz said, “we will have joys and tragedies, and we will also have blessings and triumphs.”

“Call it what you want, but this is the time of life when you get to pursue the path that God has chosen for you,” Wenz said. “Let us not forget that when we feel lost, God is in control, always has been and always will be. Congratulations. This is only the beginning and the best is yet to come.”

In her speech, Decker, a student pilot, framed life as an airplane flight that runs into difficulties.

“I am confident every one of you has the tools that will enable you to overcome the difficulties that lie ahead,” she said. “I don’t know what challenges you’ll face, but I know the tenacity and courage you each have. Continue to put God first and align your priorities with his will, and even engine failure won’t stop you.

“Fly high and dream higher.,” Decker said.

“Regardless of how meticulous your plans are, they will often fail,” she said, comparing life circumstances to a flight plan that might require looking beyond the trees to an open field to land in.

“Take a look around you for the field in the middle of the forest, for the opportunity you didn’t know about until now.”

All along, Decker urged her fellow pilots, consult your checklist.

“As we move on to our next great adventure I hope you will spend some time with that checklist: Be devoted to the Bible to be closer to God.”

“Today, we celebrate one of our greatest accomplishments and tomorrow, we can start all over again. We can make a difference in our generation only if we are of a mind to start,” Decker said.

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