It’s been said that a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. This month, some 2,600 seniors of Canyons District high schools will end this part of their educational journey by confidently advancing across graduation stages and toward the direction of their dreams.
Two of those students, Jordan High’s Tallyn Grossaint and Hillcrest High’s Abel Hagos took vastly different paths to arrive at Graduation Day. But their struggles, both physical and emotional, forged their steely determination to succeed against the odds.
While the teenage Tallyn was raising his little sister because turmoil in his family often left them fending for themselves, Abel was staking out his sleeping spot in a refugee camp in Ethopia, the country to which he fled from his poverty-stricken home country of Eritrea.
It’s been a few years since Tallyn bounced around houses and schools, and suffered the painful feelings that come from a topsy-turvy early life, but Tallyn and his younger sister now have safe place to call home. An aunt stepped in to provide security and stability — and within the Jordan High theater department he found the acceptance and support of a second family.
“Jordan High is my reason for living,” says Tallyn, who plans to study theater education at Weber State University in the fall with support from Pell Grants and the Alvin Malstrom Behind-the-Scenes Scholarship. “When I come here every day to the Jordan High theater program, I don’t feel alone. These are the brothers and sisters I have never had.”
Abel’s family in Eritrea is never far from his thoughts. The Hillcrest senior sends $200 a month from his check as a shelf-stocker at Wal-Mart to his mother and sister, even though he has not seen them since he left his village at 12 to flee to Ethiopia. Abel says he swam through a crocodile-infested channel and walked for miles before he found the first of the refugee camps in which he lived. A little more than two years ago, a humanitarian group arranged for him to leave the camp and come to the United States, where he could work and pursue an education.
This spring’s rainfall is incredibly new to him, as was snow, which he’d never seen before arriving in Utah. He loves soccer, macaroni and cheese, Burger King and buffet restaurants. He’s learned English by attending school — but admits that he’s learned more by watching action movies and television shows such as “Ellen.” While he misses his family, he wants to stay exactly where he is. “I love the freedom,” he says. “You can do and say whatever you want. If you need anything, you can just ask.”
Regardless of how they arrived at this moment, the students who make up the Classes of 2019 at Alta, Brighton, Corner Canyon, Hillcrest, Jordan, Diamond Ridge high schools, and Entrada Adult High School and the South Park Academy at the Utah State Prison, can look back at their secondary-school paths with pride.
The list of accomplishments is lengthy. Among the students are seven students who earned perfect scores on the college-entrance exam, the overall winner of the Sterling Scholar competition, three $2,500 National Merit Scholar honorees and 18 finalists for the prestigious scholarship, Sweepstakes award winners at the Utah High School Shakespeare Competition, and 80 Academic All-State Recipients. CSD student-athletes this year also claimed 16 team and individual state championships in Utah High School Activities Association-sanctioned events.
Of this year’s Canyons graduates, 1,640 earned one of Canyons’ differentiated diplomas. Canyons was the first district in Utah to provide these honors to students who went above and beyond the state graduation requirements. This year, 813 earned a CSD Advanced Diploma and 827 received the District’s Honors Diploma.
Alta High School
Conner Corina says the past four years at Alta High can best be described with the words of Dickens: It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The spark and spirit of pep rallies and dances with friends were often dampened by the stark realities of high school studies and school rules. Still, by experiencing disappointments and laughter together, the Class of 2019 learned what it really means to be a Hawk. The seniors who were celebrated during Alta’s graduation ceremony on Wednesday at the Utah Community Credit Union Center at Utah Valley University have packed a lot of life into the past 700 days, said senior Jessica Medina. While it may be bittersweet to realize that their time at the high school is over, she urged the graduates to “never forget the value of the moments” experienced at Alta. Alta’s Principal, Dr. Brian McGill, said the Class of 2019, which earned some $7 million in scholarship offers, is ready to fly high. Eighty-five percent of the graduating class has made plans to attend post-secondary education, including the 36 students who completed the “Step2theU” academic program, a unique-to-Alta partnership with the University of Utah. Those students saved $75,000 in tuition by finishing nearly two years of U. studies while still a student at Alta High. Dr. McGill also urged the students to favor personal, face-to-face connections over digital, distant relationships, and to never forget that compassion and humility are traits that will help them develop deep and lasting relationships with friends, family and colleagues. Canyons Board of Education member Amanda Oaks said this generation — commonly referred to as “iGen” — have never known life without smart phones, texting, live-streaming, and social media. Yes, technology makes our life easier in many ways, she said, but it’s also made us less connected. How many of us have felt left out after seeing Instagram posts of parties to which we weren’t invited? How many have hundreds of Facebook “Friends” but still feel lonely? And how many struggle to maintain a healthy self-image because of the constant stream of glamorous selfies? However, Alta’s Class of 2019, known for having built an inclusive and accepting school community, has what it takes to help build a more-connected, less-divisive society, she said. "I call on you, the Alta iGen-ers, for your help" in building a more united world, she said. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bob Dowdle also urged the students to embrace kindness as they make their way through life. It may not always be the easiest path to take, he said, but it will aid in professional and personal growth. “In how you treat your fellow man," he said, "I invite you to always choose civility.” A photo album of the event can be found on Canyons' Facebook page.
Brighton High School
Curiosity can get you into some trouble. “But in the grand scheme of things, curiosity is a virtue,” believes Brighton High Principal Tom Sherwood. It opens news doors, to paraphrase Walt Disney, propels us forward down new paths and directs our gaze ahead. As teachers, administrators and family members gathered at the Maverik Center on June 5 to honor Brighton High’s 50th graduating class, Sherwood told the graduates that he couldn’t help but be “curious to know what great things you’ll accomplish, curious about how you’ll live your lives and curious what impact you‘ll leave.” A reverent silence fell over the auditorium as Sherwood named the first graduate, Ashtyn Poulsen who died this week of kidney complications as a result of seven years of cancer treatment. Several students spoke of other personal losses and trials faced, along with the resilience it takes to carry on. Audrey Allen, Senior Class President, suggested that the best way to honor the past is to make the most out of the future. “This is the most accomplished graduating class in Brighton’s history, if we choose to be,” she said. Canyons District Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kathryn McCarrie, and Canyons Board of Education President Nancy Tingey and Vice President Amber Shill attended the event along with Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Peterson. The Bengals’ class of 2019 leaves big shoes to fill. Seventy-percent of the school’s 450 graduates earned Honors or Advanced Diplomas and 28 attained perfect 4.0 grade point averages. Together, they earned $6.5 million in college scholarships, and with two team state championship wins this year in boys swimming and boys soccer, Brighton earned bragging rights as the first high school in Utah to claim 120 team titles. Now, as the students take one step closer to fulfilling their educational and career aspirations, Board Vice President Amber Shill offered this advice: “Follow your passion. If you can find something you enjoy doing, and find joy doing it, your life will be filled with purpose.” And wherever that takes you, never lose your sense of curiosity. A photo album of the event can be found on Canyons' Facebook page.
Corner Canyon High School
Luke Warnock started his time at Corner Canyon High like most freshman boys — focused on friends, fun times, and being fashionable. Fast-forward to senior year, however, and he’s developed a new outlook on life. “Experience has taught me that being kind is far more important than reputations,” he said during his address at the Chargers’ commencement exercises at the Utah Community Credit Union Center at Utah Valley University. “We can be the change” that is needed to address such social ills as depression and divisiveness, he said. “And that change can start today.” Corner Canyon High’s Class of 2019 is poised to make a tremendous impact in the world, if their achievements in high school are any indicator of future success. Throughout the year, said student Baylor Jeppson, the Chargers proved “they will not settle for average.” But Jeppson also reminded the students that the school’s greatest honors came as a result of working together. Principal Darrell Jensen called the outgoing seniors “the most decorated class in school history … You have set a legacy that will be tough to follow.” In addition to the five 5A team state championships — girls soccer, boys cross country, basketball, football and boys track and field — nine students earned individual state titles in Utah High School Activities Association-sanctioned sports. Nearly 60 percent of the graduating class earned at least one scholarship offer, and the total amount in scholarships earned by Charger reached $8.7 million as of graduation day, he said. Six students also earned associates degrees at the same time they graduated from high school, and four have enlisted to serve valiantly in the U.S. Armed Forces. In the performing arts, student musicians earned the highest scores possible at year-end competitions and all performances of the two major theater productions sold out every night. In addition, the students raised $80,000 for charity this year. Jensen said such a robust list of accomplishments led the U.S. News and World Report to declare CCHS as the second-best public high school in the state. Canyons Board of Education member Chad Iverson congratulated the students for their accomplishments while in pursuit of a high school diploma. In fact, he said, they’ve left “Rudy Gobert-sized shoes” for the Class of 2020 to fill. “No matter where life takes you next,” he said, “I ask you to be true to the spirit of Corner Canyon and, in the words of the school motto, always go higher.” A photo album of the event can be found on Canyons' Facebook page.
Hillcrest High School
Because there’s no shortage of adults with words of advice for the Class of 2019, Principal Greg Leavitt chose to deliver his in song. “Good morning, Baltimore. Every day’s like an open door. Every night is a fantasy. Every sound’s like a symphony,” he crooned to the thousands of parents, teachers and administrators assembled for Hillcrest High’s June 5 graduation ceremony. Amplified by the musical talents of one of Hillcrest’s vocalists, Leavitt’s performance, and the message behind it, met with cheers and applause. Be like the protagonist in “Hairspray,” and whatever your dreams or aspirations may be, pursue them unapologetically and with strength of purpose and heart, he said. “Tracy Turnblad didn’t let bigotry, meanness or tough circumstances stand in the way of her dreams. She overcame them with a dynamic attitude, and in the process helped to transform her world.” By all evidence, Hillcrest’s 450 graduates, 309 of whom earned Advanced and Honors Diplomas, are poised to do the same. Among their ranks are eight Utah Scholars, 65 Regents’ Scholarship recipients, 11 Sterling Scholar finalists, 10 National Merit Scholar Finalists, and a student who was named Utah’s overall Sterling Scholar as well as a Presidential Scholar. Three graduating Huskies received a perfect score of 36 on the ACT college-entrance exam, 12 achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and 43 earned Seals of Biliteracy on their transcripts. Combined, the students have earned $6 million in college scholarships. They’ve excelled in the arts, music, theatre, dance and in sports, and together, have contributed tens-of-thousands of hours of service to their communities. “Even though we’re just setting out into the world, we’re already changing it by finding and pursuing our passions,” said Student Body President Landon Kent Nipko. Canyons Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe encouraged students to continue doing just that. Looking back on their lives, what most adults regret most is not becoming the person they wanted to be, he said. “It’s not enough to encourage people to do the right thing. We need to encourage people to pursue their hopes and dreams. Go learn that language you always wanted to study, travel to far-away places, walk on remote beaches, find a way to serve, meet new people, write a book, live your life’s dreams—and don’t leave it for tomorrow. There’s only one today.” A photo album of the event can be found on Canyons' Facebook page.
Jordan High School
Excitement was in the air as Jordan's Beetdiggers gathered at the Maverik Center on Wednesday, June 5, for a graduation ceremony that celebrated a host of their school's accomplishments — and some key losses. Jordan High administrators and members of The Canyons Board of Education reflected on the ups and downs of the past four years at the commencement ceremony, which was attended by Canyons' Board of Education President Nancy Tingey, Vice President Steve Wrigley and Canyons' Board of Education member Clareen Arnold, as well as Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kathryn McCarrie. Of the achievements garnered by Jordan this year, Principal Wendy Dau highlighted the fact that the student body earned a combined $3.5 million in scholarship offerings, with 13 seniors earning a 4.0 GPA and 60 students earning an advanced diploma. Jordan's boys basketball team did not win the state championship, but they came close. “We lost the state championship basketball game,” Dau said. “But it’s been a long time since Jordan has made it to the playoffs.” Jordan’s girls basketball team also made it to the state tournament for the first time in 13 years. Dau honored the school’s three Sterling Scholars, 173 students who earned a 3.5 GPA or above, and 14 students who earned a seal of biliteracy on their diploma by speaking, writing and reading two languages. Of the 463 graduates, 85 percent plan to attend college, and 86 of those students will be the first in their family to take that step. A whopping 77 percent of the student body has already earned college credit that, added up, amounts to a savings of $1 million in college tuition, and together, the school raised more than $15,000 to help refugees in the community. “We’ve seen the world around us, and we know we can be heard,” said Jordan valedictorian Jeddy Bennett. “Go be loud, make your Beetdiggers proud.” More information and a photo album from the event can be found on Canyons’ Facebook page.
South Park Academy
For proof of the value that South Park Academy students place on the opportunity to earn a diploma while at the Utah State Prison, look no further than the Class of 2019. Instead of accepting early parole, two of this year’s graduates asked to stay a few days longer so they wouldn’t miss out on their June 6 commencement ceremony. Among them: Angela Mulder who explained, education is freedom, the freedom to become the person you always wanted to be. “I hope I can be an example to my son that even if you fall short at times and make mistakes, it’s never too late to pick up the pieces and better ourselves,” she said, thanking school staff and faculty for “never giving up” on her. More than 100 men and women received high school and GED diplomas this year from South Park, an educational institution overseen by Canyons School District and located at the prison in Draper. The school, which caters to students of all ages and in all stages of their education, held its commencement exercises in the presence of friends and family members in a recreational building at the correctional facility. Four students received special recognition as “Students of the Year,” and a fifth was awarded a college scholarship. “You are no longer a non-graduate. You are a high school graduate,” Juvenile and Adult Corrections Education Administrator Todd Bird told the students. “This is a significant change, one that will have lasting impact on you and those around you.” An education opens doors, both personal and professional. But in achieving their diploma, South Park’s graduates have also proven something to themselves. “In the future, you may face challenges that may seem too big or too difficult. It is in those moments that you can look back on today, at this time, and remember that you can do hard things,” said Canyons Board of Education President Nancy Tingey. Canyons Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe offered some practical advice, encouraging the students to continue setting goals post-graduation while also keeping them manageable. Graduating from college is an admirable ambition, he said, “But start by saying, ‘I’m going to begin by taking three classes, because I know life’s going to be rough for me right now.’ You set those smaller goals, and after three years go by, lo and behold, you are graduating.” CSD Board of Education Vice President Steve Wrigley, Board member Amber Oaks, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Katherine McCarrie, and Student Advocacy and Access Director Karen Sterling also participated in South Park's commencement ceremony. A photo album of the event can be found on the District's Facebook page.
Diamond Ridge High School
Our dreams give us focus, hope, and a sense of purpose, but it’s education that fuels their realization. “Education is power. It gives you the control to make of your own life what you will,” said Canyons District Student Advocacy and Support Director Karen Sterling while addressing the graduates of Diamond Ridge High at the school’s 2019 commencement ceremony. “What you have earned, you’ve gotten for yourself, and no one can ever take it away from you.” Diamond Ridge, a smaller, closer-knit alternative to Canyons’ conventional high schools, awarded diplomas to 50 students this year—each with a story to tell about what it takes to triumph over adversity. “To all the people who thought we couldn’t make it, here we are. We made it!” said Rebecca Nevarez who says her experience at Diamond Ridge taught her that “nothing is impossible if you show up and do the work.” Canyons Board of Education Vice President Steve Wrigley commended graduates for their passion and grit and encouraged them keep aiming high, dreaming big and learning. “Take courage and aim high in life. Though you may not always achieve your dreams, don’t stop dreaming,” he said. “Become the person you always knew you could be. The only person stopping you from becoming that person is you.” Joining Wrigley in presenting diplomas to the Class of 2019 were Board of Education member Mont Millberg, Canyons Assistant Superintendent Kathryn McCarrie, Responsive Services Director BJ Weller, and Diamond Ridge Principal Amy Boettger who was greeted with hugs and tearful words of thanks as graduate after graduate crossed the stage. “Whatever personal setbacks we’ve faced to get here,” said graduate Carson Ekins, “our hearts beat as one as we take our first step into reality.” A photo album of the event can be found on Canyons’ Facebook page.
Canyons Transitions Academy
The eleven students who received Monday certificates of completion for the Canyons Transition Academy were told to keep reaching for their dreams by always learning something new. At the beginning of the year, said Special Education Programs Administrator TIfny Iacona, it seemed too big a task for the students to confidently use the public-transit system for their transportation. But day after day, little by little, lesson by lesson, the students learned how to broaden the horizons of their lives by riding the bus and the train, she said. "It's amazing what the students are able to do," Iacona said at a ceremony at Mount Jordan Middle School. The auditorium was filled with family, friends and faculty who cheered for each of the graduates of the program, which was created with the aim of helping adult special-education students earn skills to live happy, healthy independent lives. Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe told the students he was "so proud of the fact that you are graduating today." He urged the students to b e happy, love the people who support them, and be as healthy as possible. "You can go to McDonalds -- but only every once in awhile and if your parents say it's part of your diet," he said. "When you leave here you are going to do great things." Dr. Briscoe also thanked parents for supporting their children and the faculty for their hard work and commitment to the success of CTA students. The certificates were handed out by Iacona, Dr. Briscoe, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kathryn McCarrie and Special Education Director Misty Suarez. A photo album of the event can be found on the District's Facebook page.
Entrada High School
There were plenty of cheers and shouts of joy during Entrada High School’s graduation at Corner Canyon high on Wednesday night, June 26, but the greatest applause came when Ed Almstedt crossed the stage. When the 85-year-old took his diploma in one hand and waved to the crowd with the other, his yellow tassel dangling from his mortarboard, the crowd jumped to its feet in a standing ovation. Members of Entrada’s class of 2019 chose the theme, “We’re not looking back because that’s not the direction we’re going,” in homage to their accomplishment in receiving a diploma from Canyons’ adult high school. Many of Entrada’s graduates worked full-time jobs while going to school, some are parents, others are refugees, grandparents, and in Almstedt’s case, great-grandparents. Each of the 191 graduates overcame challenges to complete their high school education, and the mood among the students and their families in the packed audience was jubilant. Canyons Board of Education Vice President Steve Wrigley, board member Clareen Arnold, Entrada Principal Amy Boettger, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kathryn McCarrie and Canyons Director of Responsive Services BJ Weller attended the ceremony that celebrated and highlighted the uniqueness and tenacity of Entrada’s cohort. Of the diverse students, three were selected to speak during the graduation proceedings. Arminda Shepherd told the story of moving from her home country of Guinea-Bissau to Portugal at the age of 13 and seeing a television for the first time. She was amazed that she no longer had to walk seven miles to fetch water, but it came from a tap when you turned a knob. After moving to the United States in 2008, Shepherd completed her high school degree at age 47, and she plans to attend Salt Lake Community College. Another student speaker, 22-year-old Katelyn Boender, told the story about how she made her way back to high school after dropping out when she became pregnant with her first child. As a single mother now with two children, Boender described sometimes taking her children to class while she took tests or attended class. Jawdat Meraai described the journey he took to Entrada after moving with his family as refugees to America from Syria. Meraai simultaneously learned English as he attended his high school classes. He plans to open a business now that he has received his diploma. A photo album of the event can be found on the District's Facebook page.