Al Kennedy High School (AKHS) recently honored its 2022 graduating class in an alternative and intimately supportive way.
Stepping onto the school property on the morning of June 10 and following the path that lead to AKHS’s covered basketball court, visitors and students had the opportunity to write encouraging messages on any of the 40 posters that lined the walkway created by the space between buildings. Each poster represented a different student and bore the student’s image and name.
Softly falling rain—warm and without any accompanying breeze—did not appear to dampen the mood of the AKHS seniors present for their graduation ceremony.
The principal of the school, Halie Ketcher, opened the ceremony by acknowledging the educators both inside and outside of Al Kennedy High School. Two student speakers dressed in dark green graduation gowns and caps were then introduced. Of the two, Chloe Stroe was the first to speak.
“…We wanted this day to come for so long, and now that it's here, it's almost bittersweet,” Chloe admitted. “We may have not all grown up together, but our high school years have been one hell of an experience: we made it through freshman year; we made it through a longer than expected ‘spring break;’ we made it through distance learning; we made it through social distancing and masks in class; our final step is making it through graduation. This is the easy part…”
After a round of applause for Chloe, AKHS’s second student speaker, Nikita Smith, took to the podium.
Said Nikita, “This school year, it was sort of complicated because it was my first year of high school being clean. The first half of this year, attending in-person changed my perspective on how I want to live my life.”
Nikita went on to explain how she had received support at Al Kennedy High School after speaking up about her personal struggles. “Instead of being judged, I was helped,” she said.
The 2022 graduate went on to share song lyrics she had written: “while battling addiction and other obstacles.” Her intention for writing the song, she said, was “to show people that the impossible can be turned into I am possible.”
Closing her speech, Nikita had this to say: “…Wanting to finish high school and actually doing it isn't hard when you have staff and peers that are phenomenal when it comes to caring. Now that is a community, and this is a community. Thank you to everyone that showed up today and congratulations to the class of 2022. I am so proud of you guys.”
One by one, the 40 Al Kennedy High School graduates present at the June ceremony waited to hear their names and receive either a high school diploma or GED certificate. Members of the teaching staff took turns at the podium to acknowledge each of the students on an individual level. After each expression of veneration, many hugs were shared between AKHS educators and students.
A song composed by the teaching staff and dedicated to AKHS’s class of 2022 began to play. Silly and simultaneously somber, each verse of lyrics described a different student. In cap and gown, the future contributing members of South Lane County and beyond—the construction worker, the firefighter, horse trainer, the future mother, future Russian speaker, future massage therapist, and the rest—departed the staging area one by one as each verse was sung.
Principal Ketcher made one final remark before the graduation ceremony ended. “Know that, while you leave Kennedy today, you do not leave it behind,” she said. “Kennedy has changed each of your lives, and you have changed Kennedy just as much. You have been part of its evolution and have left your mark. We hope that you return here often.
“Graduates, yours has been an extraordinary and unprecedented journey that called for extraordinary and unprecedented resiliency in the face of a pandemic. You answered the call, and you did what it took to graduate. On behalf of the staff at Al Kennedy High School, we wish you all the very best of luck in pursuing your dreams and achieving greatness.”