◆ Students work hard to put their stamp on a difficult academic year.
Let the graduation march begin for the class of 2020! Albeit the Pomp and Circumstance of commencement may take on a new look – or an old one depending on which end of a century you look at.
The last time a class of seniors from the Star Valley region received their diplomas midst a pandemic American doughboys were headed “over there.”
But for superintendent Matt Erickson, these 21st century graduates could not have made him prouder. And he lauds the teachers and staff “over here” in Lincoln County School District 2.
“Attitude makes all the difference,” Erickson told SVI Media, adding that the class of 2020 “handled this with grace and flexibility.” In fact, he described it best by saying the seniors “killed it, to be honest with you.”
“When it could’ve been extremely frustrating and what not, they’ve accepted it. It is what it is,” Erickson said in a telephone interview concerning commencement exercises scheduled for Star Valley High School, May 26; Cokeville High School, May 27; and Swift Creek High School, May 28.
But as of May 18, the school district was still working with state and county public health as to how those graduations will look — or how the history books will one day reflect the class of 2020.
However, Erickson emphasized that the final word would be this week. He is scheduled to talk with SVI Media possibly Wednesday afternoon over Swift 98 and The Spur, part of the SVI Radio Network, for a live radio press conference so students and parents have the necessary information as soon as possible.
The superintendent also told SVI Media that the district was working every angle to make graduation a lifetime memory for 21 graduates from Cokeville High School, 17 from Swift Creek High School and 183 from Star Valley High School.
In fact, Erickson mused, “I wonder if it’ll change graduation in the future. Who wants to sit in a stuffy auditorium for two hours?”
His affection for young people in the Star Valley region is obvious. “Kids are naturally resilient, but I think this has given them the tools to face the future and have faith things will work out with the things that we’re not in control of.”
It’s that resiliency that counselor Ben Hale has seen since he began working at Star Valley High School in the fall of 2003. “Every kid overcame challenges this year,” he told SVI Media. “That’s the nature of where we’re at [in Star Valley]. I’ve been impressed with the community and the desire that they have to help.”
Examples of that help are students in the certified nursing assistant and welding high school programs receiving permission and variances to complete those programs. Such early success, Hale said, gives young people a “leg up” as they proceed into careers or further schooling.
And Hale really likes Thursdays. Each week, he and the other two counselors at the high school deliver food bags to several students in the upper and lower valley along with homework packets for kids with no Internet access.
“I’m impressed with those students,” Hale said. “They still do [the homework]. I look forward to Thursdays to say hi to kids instead of over zoom meetings. They still want to graduate.”
And they do so with parental support, he added. He related how one mother works at a restaurant with a drive-thru window. “We pull up to the drive-thru window, and she hands us the work for the week [for her student] and donuts.”
Brian Toomer, principal at Cokeville High School sees that commitment on his side of the mountain no less. And he expressed gratitude for parents for their patience as the district works out how to celebrate this year’s graduating seniors. “They’ve been very patient with the school, with me, [and] the district.”
His staff “knows the kids by name,” Toomer related. “Our teachers take ownership [of students’ progress].”
He added, however, that he also understands the emotional struggle in the “waiting pattern” for students and parents as the district works out graduation with public safety. The Cokeville class of 2020, he said, will “be part of a history book.”
To Erickson, every student in Lincoln County School District 2 should be part of a history book. These kids, he said, grow up in a rural agricultural, livestock community where they “learn how to work.”
And that prized ethic, he emphasized, means they problem solve. Star Valley people “tuck in our chin and face [obstacles] head on.”
See this year’s graduates in the Inside Look Section of the May 20, 2020 edition.