Special graduation ceremony held for Evanston senior whose father has cancer

The Evanston High School boys’ swim team shows support for 2022’s first EHS graduate, Kenyon Lovato. Lovato, standing next to his father, Tony, was honored at a commencement ceremony on Wednesday because his father has cancer and may not live until the traditional May ceremony. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — A suggestion from some parents of Evanston High School swimmer to coach Jim Levine led to an extraordinary compassionate event that took place at the Evanston High School recently.

Student Kenyon Lovato’s mother, Becky Lovato, is a custodian at EHS, so principal Merle Lester is well aware of the difficult circumstances the family is enduring — Kenyon’s father, Tony Lovato, is battling cancer and may not live to see the annual EHS graduation held in May.

Knowing that, the swim team parents suggested the idea of an early ceremony for Kenyon — an idea that was met with enthusiasm. Lester talked with Uinta County School District No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas and plans were put together in less than a week, with the organizing parents providing all of the decorations.

Kenyon’s graduation ceremony took place on Wednesday, Jan. 12, at 2:45 p.m. in the EHS auditorium, with his fellow seniors and members of the community attending.  The event began with a formal processional and Kenyon’s name being called out as he walked to the front of the auditorium and onto the stage. 

Sitting on the stage were Kenyon’s parents, three school board members — Joel Wiedrich, John DeBois and Dan Wheeler — Thomas and Lester,along with Kenyon’s friend, Hagen Faddis, who sat next to him.

“It is wonderful to be here with Tony and his family; the family is significant to civilization,” Lester said with tears in his eyes. “There is nothing more important than family, nothing.  If you don’t believe that, wait until you have been separated from family for a time, or one is injured or sick or absent. For this reason, we want to honor Tony, Becky and their family. Thank you for coming, and I’d like to introduce the next speaker, student Riley Ovard.”

Ovard began by also thanking the audience for coming and stated that he is present for the same reason everyone is: to show support for Kenyon and his family. Ovard built on the theme of family and spoke about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the community and the realization that everyone has been going through times of being separated from family.

Some have gotten sick and some haven’t, he said. He added that just because the world is in a general state of disorder doesn’t mean each person has to do that in their personal relationships.

“We need to put aside any arguments and come together with love and compassion,” Ovard said. “We can put aside any childish disagreements and realize that we are a family. Compassion outweighs any disagreement.

“We seniors have endured 13 long years of classes, tests, relationships and break-ups. Here we are! So, to you, I want to present two challenges,” Ovard continued. “The first is I want you to picture in your mind the person you are closest to and remember and feel inside your heart how much you love them. I challenge you to remember everything you have in that relationship and remind yourself every day how important that person is to you. Secondly, I challenge you to share that love, give that love to Kenyon and his family — but don’t stop there. I know there are fellow students sitting next to you who need that love also. I challenge you to share that love.”

Ovard ended his address with a poem by Mary Oliver called “Black Water Woods.” The poem admonishes all to love ardently and when their time comes, let it go. Ovard left the stage to a strong round of applause. 

The EHS Vocal Jazz 1 Choir, led by teacher Heather Blackwell, then gave a beautiful performance of the song “I Will Sing You the Stars,” written by Mark Burrows.

Kenyon’s fellow senior and teammate, Jaxon Nicholls, then addressed the audience.

“I am really excited to be here today and grateful to have been a teammate of Kenyon’s and to be one of his best friends. Kenyon is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen. Michael Jordan said, ‘Some people want it to happen, others wish for it to happen and others make it happen.’ We wanted this day to happen and wished for it to happen but we also made it happen. This is the day we have been waiting for since the first day of kindergarten. We have made it happen. Thank you.”

Thomas was the last to speak.

“I’d like to express appreciation to all of the staff of Evanston High School,” the superintendent said. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to show that we care for all of our students and their families. I have known Kenyon from the time he was a baby, and I am proud of him and the man he has become. I’ve watched his father Tony over the last several years fight his illness and he has never given up. Tony is the most courageous man I know and should be the poster man for courage.”

Thomas became very emotional and took a few moments to regain his composure before speaking to the senior class.

“You have 88 days until graduation, 88 days,” Thomas said. “You have developed relationships over 13 years of school in preparation for this day. It is one of the most culminating events you will ever have in your life. And part of that is the relationships you have developed over those 13 years — the lasting friendships you have made. I challenge you in these last 88 days to make new friends; make a new friend, maybe two. I challenge you to have fun but don’t forget the relationships you have had, the staff, the friends, the teachers. I am confident that you will face the challenges, and I hope all of us will embrace our challenges.”

Thomas then addressed the school board and said Kenyon had met all of the requirements for graduation and asked the school board members to come forward and present the diploma to him. Lovato received a standing ovation and remained on stage, where he was surrounded by his father, teammates and coach for pictures and a celebration.

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