Thursday, July 29, 2021
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SHS seniors graduate at War Memorial Field

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | June 15, 2021 1:00 AM

Friday’s graduation arrived to gray skies and rain, but nothing would dampen the spirits of the roughly 200 Sandpoint High School graduates at War Memorial Field.

As they crowded onto the turf at War Memorial Field, students shouted greetings to each other, and graduates waved to the entourage of family, friends and mentors crowded around them.

The ceremony would be punctuated by the choir’s performance of “I’ll Always Remember You” and end with caps flying and the tolling of the victory bell as new graduates pulled at its rope. There would be tearful hugs, and “Oh my God, I can’t believe I graduated,” and “You did it, darling.”

Before that, though, a few of the seniors would share their parting words with their classmates and community.

Connor Bird, SHS salutatorian, said that despite the challenges, heartache and missed opportunities of the past year, he was grateful for his fellow students and school staff who had been there for him and his classmates.

“This year has been really taxing. I think it has brought out the best in all of us. I take pride in the fact that I can look out at you all and see every face, [and] there's a [story] there. From Campbell telling me the scrumptious meal of the day in those morning announcements to Mr. Watkins' warming wave as I drive past him five minutes late to first period,” he said.

The friends, parents, teachers, coaches and administrators who helped him throughout his high school journey shaped him into who he is now, Bird said.

“Thank you for making me the person that I am today,” he said. “I hope in some way I was able to reciprocate this kindness. I hope I was able to make you smile, make you laugh, or at the very least, make you breathe a bit harder out of your nose.”

Olivia Lynch, senior class president, said looking back on the school year reminded her of a hike she took with her friends as a “last hurrah” in September, before AP statistics and college applications overtook them.

“At the beginning, you've got your tunes flying, your expectations high and you're ready for the journey ahead. Everything is going swimmingly until it's not. And then you're alone, you're lost, you're cold. And you're really wishing you didn't wear cotton pants because you've lost feeling in your legs,” she said. “Then you start to make real friends. You find that you're actually really good at playing the trombone, or hitting a volleyball. You actually start to enjoy your classes. You learn who you are and what you will be. And then you blink and the four years spent in these hallways have come to an end. It's never really what you expect.”

Her class, she joked, might not be the smartest, or the best athletes, or the hardest partiers. But they learned to adapt to circumstances more than any other class in recent memory.

“We're the better for it. Let's apply what we have learned in this school to our future lives and plant seeds of grit, kindness and growth,” she said.

Katelyn Bokowy, one of SHS’s two valedictorians, said Sandpoint, which is “a little quirky,” and the people in it, are what made her high school experience special.

Where else, she said, would teachers encourage students to miss a day to hit the ski slopes, or a turkey might (allegedly) be found in a toilet?

“Maybe we won't miss having our parents get a text from some family member every time we miss school. Seriously, we can't get away with anything in this small town,” she said. “[But] even as many of us are excited to get out of here, it'll always be a great place to call home.”

Camille Neuder, SHS’s other valedictorian, said young people shouldn’t allow themselves to be limited by ideas of what they “should” do, their obligations or their own self-perception.

“‘Should’ creates a connotation of either reaching the desired outcome or being disappointed,” Neuder said. “Both of those take away from the simple idea of enjoying and accepting [that] we didn't have a normal senior year experience.”

Although things weren’t what they hoped for, Neuder said, there will always be things that fall short of expectations.

“We get to be here today. We get to share this moment with our friends and family that we love,” she said.

It’s also easy, Neuder said, to become overwhelmed by feelings of obligation. Her advice, she said, was to instead focus on making a positive impact on other people — to become an agent of change.

Finally, she said, young people often let the idea of being “awkward” get in the way of opportunities that have yet to happen. Starting conversations with people, even if it feels awkward, could be life-changing.

She, and the rest of her class, have the power to enact change, Neuder said.

“Remember that silence is acceptance and vocalization is change. So speak up for what you believe in. Know that there is nothing awkward about being yourself,” she said.

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Trustees for the Lake Pend Oreille School District, Lonnie Williams and Geraldine Lewis, along with Superintendent Tom Albertson and Principal David Miles, look on as the choir performs “I’ll Always Remember You” Friday at War Memorial Field.

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A student hugs Lonnie Williams, trustee for the Lake Pend Oreille School District, Friday at War Memorial Field.

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graduates and other choir members perform “I’ll Always Remember You” Friday at War Memorial Field.

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A graduate smiles wide as she receives her diploma Friday at War Memorial Field.

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A graduate shakes Principal David Miles' hand as she receives her diploma Friday at War Memorial Field.

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17 Braden Kappen walks off the stage after receiving his diploma Friday at War Memorial Field.

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A graduate waves to the audience after receiving his diploma Friday at War Memorial Field.

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Valedictorian Katelyn Bokowy speaks to the crowd at Friday's Sandpoint High School graduation ceremony at War Memorial Field.

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Salutatorian Connor Bird speaks to the crowd Friday at War Memorial Field.

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Valedictorian Camille Neuder walks to the stage Friday at War Memorial Field.

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A student comes in for a hug, teary-eyed and smiling, following Sandpoint High School's graduation ceremony Friday night at War Memorial Field.

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Students pull the rope on the victory bell following graduation Friday at War Memorial Field.