Valedictorian: Our class ‘fought through hell, lived through history’

Students wait their turn as local school officials hand out diplomas last week during the Evanston High School graduation. (HERALD PHOTO/Hayden Godfrey)

EVANSTON — Evanston High School’s graduating class of 2022 was celebrated in the high school auditorium on Saturday, May 28. The ceremony began with the graduates’ procession toward the stage and a statement by EHS Principal Merle Lester.

Lester opened by recounting the most memorable moments of 2022, mentioning prom, homecoming, and school assemblies as examples. He presented the senior choir students, who sang the national anthem.

Lester thanked the local radio station, the Evanston Police Department, class advisors Dave Deru and Nathan Conrad, and the entire district staff, emphasizing the latter group’s “hard work in getting students here, all the way from kindergarten to this culminating event in their 12th-grade year.” Lester finished by thanking the graduates themselves.

“Being the principal,” said Lester, “you see the good, the bad and the ugly, but there are some really amazing things that have happened. We have several state champions in individual events and all kinds of people who have accomplished things. I am so grateful for all of the memories.”

Lester then introduced the senior class president, Francisco Vejar, to the podium. Vejar quoted Oprah Winfrey, saying that a vision is necessary, even without a specific plan. Vejar said that one piece of advice resonated with him, and that advice was to ask for help when he needed it.

He emphasized this with an anecdote. He recalled conspiring with his teacher, Michelle Biddulph, in order to pull a prank on Loretta Carpenter, another teacher. After this was done, said Vejar, he felt he had a stronger bond with both Biddulph and Carpenter. Asking for assistance with something as simple as a prank, said Vejar, made it easier for him to communicate with his teachers throughout high school.

Vejar ended his remarks on a note of appreciation, saying, “Thank you so much, all teachers and staff members, for being so patient and making me a better person.”

Vejar was followed by student body president and co-salutatorian Lily Johnson.Johnson began her speech by revealing goals she had set nearly four years earlier. She had hoped as a freshman to graduate at the top of her class and attend Stanford University. Johnson said that her fear of failure had kept her from her goals, and implored her audience to pursue theirs, and not to let fear, money or doubt hold them back.

“Believe in yourself enough to make an effort,” Johnson said, “because if you don’t, you may always wonder what could have been if you’d only tried.”

Johnson remembered a conversation she’d had on the return trip from a track and field regional competition. That discussion, she said, had focused on hard work, and how it is often unrewarding. Johnson had come to the conclusion that hard work had to be done for its own sake, regardless of the reward, and that falling short of a goal is not failure, but growth.

Johnson finished her speech by saying, “If you will remember anything from this speech, I hope it will be this: society deems not reaching a goal as failure, but it isn’t failure. We must all learn to base our accomplishments on growth, not just an end goal, because if you can be proud of the hard work you’ve achieved, it won’t matter in the end if you’ve reached your original goal. You’ll still be proud anyway.”

The next speaker was co-salutatorian Kaden Wiley, who made gratitude the theme of his speech. He thanked his teachers, coaches, schools, peers, family and community for their contributions to his education. Wiley cited a Harvard Medical School study, saying that there is a correlation between gratitude and happiness.

“It is my hope,” Wiley said, “that as we graduate and open the next chapter in our lives, we will do so with gratitude in our hearts.”

A second musical performance succeeded Wiley’s speech, with choir students performing “I Will Sing You the Stars” by Mark Burrows.

Valedictorian Riley Ovard then spoke, celebrating his freedom from Evanston High, but lauding the institution as a standout among Wyoming schools.

“It’s not perfect,” Ovard said, “but having seen almost every other high school in Wyoming, we have something special here.”

He thanked the faculty for its devotion, and the class of 2022. He expressed the idea that what truly makes Evanston special is its students, who have accomplished great feats as athletes, thespians and musicians.

“We are reminiscent of some of the greatest graduating classes this school has ever seen,” Ovard said. He attributed the greatness of the class to unwavering resilience.

He said he was proud of what his classmates had endured, and what they had achieved in the face of their many challenges, using the COVID-19 pandemic as his main example. 

“We have fought through hell, lived through history, and yet we stand here today stronger than ever,” Ovard said. “In spite of the world, we persevere. I am proud to be a part of the class of 2022.”

Next, vice principal Scott Kohler presented the top 10% of the graduating class. Those named were Johnson, Wiley, Ovard, Amelia Barker, Wade Barker, McKye Carver, Baylie Critchfield, Kaitlin Deru, Madyson Green, Erik Greer, Savanna Hatch, Aubrey Martin, Amelia Payne, Mackenzie Porter, Kurtis Richins, Abbie Rigby, Mallory Sepos, Linzy Sharp and George Stephen. Melia Wilson and Noah Conrad were selected for the Lois Michelstetter Citizenship Award.

The outstanding all-around male and female student awards were given to Rigby and Ovard, while Stacia Barker and Payton Vernon were selected for the outstanding all-around athlete award.

Diplomas were then presented by Uinta County School District No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas; school board members Christa Barker and John DuBois; and assistant superintendents Dr. Joseph Ingalls and Doug Rigby.

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