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From COVID to commencement: Dolores graduates 36

Dolores graduates toss their hats in the air as the end of the graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Class of 2024 graduates 36 inside packed gym

Beginning high school often studying from home while a viral scourge circulated outside, and spending her final three years at home because of unrelenting medical conditions, Analisa Vega walked into Dolores High School Gymnasium Thursday, later stepped onto the stage to speak as valedictorian, then reascended it barely two minutes later as the first to receive a diploma from Principal Justin Schmitt.

Ultimately, she exited the packed gym the same way she’d entered, personifying the dedication and resolve educators hoped to encourage from the 36 departing seniors of the Class of 2024.

Valedictorian Analisa Vega speaks at the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Class president Kayla Tallmadge gives her speech air the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Salutatorian Brooklyn Lee gives her speech for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Layne Hedgren sings the national anthem for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Dylan Koskie is congratulated as he marches in for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Keynote speaker Mrs. Karen Finch addresses the Dolores High School graduates Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
At the urging of the keynote speaker, Dolores graduates put on red noses to remind them not to take life too seriously.Sam Green/Special to The Journal
A standing room only crowds filled the gym for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal

“My high school experience, like most of yours, was not easy. One major challenge that I faced was with my health. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof; I became very sick – the incurable, probably-forever kind of sick,” Vega said during her speech. “It was during my sophomore year that became my life, and from that point forward I could no longer attend school in person, and my world has been falling apart. I felt like a failure, and a lot of the time I still do; most of my dreams were no longer possible, and every ounce of my energy was being poured into my schoolwork.”

“Yet I was constantly being told I wasn’t trying hard enough, or that I was faking all my struggles. As you might imagine, this takes its toll after a while; there were so many days that I wanted so desperately to give up on it all. But I didn’t. And even through all the adversity that you all have faced, neither have any of you. And for that I am so deeply proud of both of us.”

“You and I are part of this horrible – and wonderful – thing called life, and like many of you know, it often isn’t kind; it has a habit of putting you in situations … beyond your control,” she said. “And that demands an important – and often misunderstood – feeling called ‘hope.’ And it is what you do with it that defines your success; so far, for me, hope has manifested in ways as great as this achievement and as small as starting another day.”

Lasting roughly 75 minutes from start to applause-heavy finish, commencement concluded DHS’ 2023-24 school year and began with senior Layne Hedgren singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”Superintendent Dr. Reece Blincoe then welcomed all in attendance and spoke first to the soon-to-be graduates.

“You take things in stride,” he said. “Jimmy Buffett said that ‘I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to (always reach my destination).’ I tell you, when the wind’s blowing you off course, adjust your sails to get to where you want to go. Know your target, know where you want to go and go there.”

Schmitt then passed the microphone to four-year class president Kayla Tallmadge, who in her speech emphasized embracing life’s lighter moments and perpetually seeking them.

“You may know that our class voted the theme song for (the 2006 animated film) ‘Curious George’ as our official class song,” she said, referring to Jack Johnson’s well-known ‘Upside Down.’ “To finish off my own little tangent, a piece of knowledge from ‘Curious George’ is: Even the smallest acts of mischief can lead to the biggest adventures.”

“My wish is that every single person in this auditorium will cling on to their childlike spirit and make time to live like the chaotic little cartoon monkey, whose adventures we grew up admiring from the couch – in our superhero, dinosaur or princess pajamas,” Tallmadge continued. “From now on, instead of being serious, may every moment of your future be filled with adventure, excitement, want and, of course, curiosity.”

Known to most of the Class of 2024 from as far back as kindergarten. Karen Finch delivered the ceremony’s keynote address, before her words set in during a music-accompanied, then-and-now photo slideshow of those about to receive their sheepskins.

“I learned that curiosity can lead you to the truth,” she said, after a short story about her time volunteering at the Oregon School for the Deaf and learning sign language – once to the amusement of a passerby observing her practice the gestures, but to the amazement of another.

“Judgment implies you know everything and shuts the door, but curiosity conveys humility and the possibility that maybe you don’t know the whole story. I hope as you go through your life, you lead with curiosity. And as you embrace this change, I hope you can look past yourself and see others. You don’t have to say the right things in hard times; instead, just try ‘How can I help?’ Our world has urgent issues, and reaching out to help others could change lives, even yours.”

“There is a song by Rascal Flatts called ‘How They Remember You.’ This song has a lot of meaning to me today,” Brooklyn Lee said in her subsequent salutatorian address – preceding Vega’s and the moment all most eagerly awaited. “The song states: ‘Signed a bunch of high school yearbooks/ So they wouldn’t forget about me/ It wasn’t ‘til I saw my daddy’s name in stone, I knew/ It ain’t a question of if they will/ It’s how they remember you.’ It is important for all of us to think about what kind of impact and legacy we want to leave behind, in everything we do.”

“Life can be hard, but life is all about what we make of it,” she stated. “Choose to be a leader, not a follower. Do what is right, not popular. Always be kind. Follow your dreams no matter what. Work hard in everything, and have strong values. As Dolly Parton says, ‘Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.’ Class of 2024, let’s go out into this world and be change-makers. It is our time to shine!”

The Class of 2024

Graduates: Austin Anderson, Leon Becker, Janae Boyd, Dillon Brengle, Kylee Burt, Joshua Carpenter, Kelter Christenson, Darwin Cooper, Tayler Cooper, Nevaeh DeHerrera, Kayla Edwards, Matthew Englert, Lillie Faught, Ty Gaddis, Brody Gottman, Layne Hedgren, William Isaman, Dylan Koskie, Jordan Lansing, Brooklyn Lee, Ashlyn Mikkelson, Ryan Muff, Mark Palate, Tearah Philpott, Mikayla Puett, Jonathan Purkat, Aidan Pym, Lara Rimbert, Avery Stiegelmeyer, Kayla Tallmadge, Zachary Taylor, Analisa Vega, Finity Velasquez, James Willett, Ethin Williford, Julian Winslow.

Sponsore: Jessica Bloise, Jessica Kuntz, Allyson Cook

Class color: Pink

Class flower: Tulip

Class motto: ‘When life shuts a door, open it. That’s how doors work.’