For the first time in many years, Yelm High School held its graduation ceremony on campus, celebrating over 300 students on June 12.
The seniors faced multiple challenges in the 2020-21 school year with distance learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent hybrid learning as time progressed.
Principal John Johnson addressed the seniors in a speech titled “It’s your story.”
“To the class of 2021, this is your time, your story, your horizon,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the path you’re on is not the path you choose. We know that life moves on and we live in moments where we can seize upon our new understanding of what is important.”
He said that while everyone has been in the same storm over the past year and a half, each person, or group of people, has been in different boats.
“Our stories have evolved as we navigated through COVID,” he said. “We’ve adapted to many new and, in some cases, improved aspects of education.”
He said the system was remodeled with new methods and terminology over a 16-month period.
“And in a year of what sometimes could be considered impossible challenges, we continue to find ways to get better,” Johnson said. “You all have a story like no other generation before you. The question is, ‘how will you relate your story moving forward?’”
Johnson said he hoped the graduating class of 2021 would take the challenges and the “firsts” they experienced and make it a story that will benefit them, adding to their lives as they move forward.
“As you take time to reflect on your own firsts, and accomplishments, and perhaps those things that you have not done so well, and you start to place them on you own personal scale, I hope that the scale tips in your favor because of your perseverance, persistence, sense of accomplishment, love for yourself, love for your family, love for your friends,” Johnson said. “You alone know the story and you alone are meant to share over time what this time of COVID meant. This is your day. Live inspired.”
Valedictorian Cassandra Shaw gave a rousing address to her fellow graduates, urging them to follow their dreams, no matter how unrealistic they may seem, just like she did as she dared to apply — and be accepted — to Stanford University.
Kya Ramirez, also a valedictorian, spoke about how high achievers are the products of their environments and the people that helped mold them.
“I am here to say that I am not here without the people who helped to shape me for the last 13 years,” Ramirez said. “Have you heard that quote: ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ Well, I am that child and the village is sitting right in front of me, beside me and behind me as I speak.”
She said that each and every one of the people in her village created the person she is today and said she is grateful to them.
“Fellow students, our lives have just begun,” Ramirez said. “Don’t forget to thank your village that got you here.”
Valedictorian Martha Hill spoke about overcoming fear as she and the class of 2021 embark on their next journey.
Hill said she dreaded giving her speech, but knew that when given the opportunity to face her fears, something that she hopes all of her class has the courage to do, she had to seize the moment.
“Now that I’m here, I’m going to make the most of these few minutes and give you all some of the hope that I cling on to as we set foot into the vast expanse of opportunity and unknown that lies before us,” Hill said. “It only gets better from here. Any stress from these classes and people will not follow you after this moment.”
She said that her fellow classmates could take pride in what they have accomplished, that they really could do anything they set their minds to.
“Yes, it will be scary,” Hill said. “Yes, the world is unpredictable and some of us will never feel prepared enough to jump into it, but don’t be afraid to take those risks. Don’t dread failure and rejection, because even if you fail, you will always wonder what would happen if you took that leap.
“The unknown is full of just as much fear as it is triumph, but it is up to you to decide how to act on that knowledge.”