Graduation Day for Canyons District’s ‘First Class’

The end of every school year is traditionally marked by the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” mortar boards and flowing robes, and speeches about never forgetting the past while pressing into the future. This year is no different, even though the Class of 2022 has a unique place in Canyons District’s history.  Thirteen years ago, the first year of Canyons’ operations, CSD schools welcomed bunches of fresh-faced 5-year-old kiddos to its kindergarten classes. Those fresh-faced children have grown through the grades to arrive at Commencement Day as the first class to start and end their kindergarten-through-12th-grade journeys with Canyons District. As they walk across the graduation stage and into the rest of their lives, we leave them with these words from Anatole France:  “To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream, not only dream, but also believe.” To note their contributions to CSD’s story of success, and as a gesture of our belief in our seniors’ dreams, the Canyons Board of Education and Administration is presenting each member of the Class of 2022 with a commemorative “First Class” gift. Canyons community applauds and celebrates the accomplishments of the students who are completing their time in our schools and programs.  In addition, while students will be wearing the traditional flowing robes and mortar boards, a new policy allows graduates to wear traditional objects of personal religious or cultural significance. The Canyons Board of Education last week approved the “Student Conduct and Disciplinary Process” policy, which governs the dress of students during commencement exercises. The new policy conforms to HB30, passed during the 2022 General Session of the Utah Legislature, which requires school districts to allow American Indian or Alaskan native students to wear tribal regalia at graduation. It also provides for all seniors to wear floral leis (no more than three), stoles, sashes, or ceremonial flowers. Take a moment to see how each CSD school, including Jordan Valley and the Canyons Transition Academy, sent off the Class of 2022 in style.

Alta High

Alta High’s Class of 2022 endured quite a bit in recent years to make it to where the seniors were Wednesday morning — at the Huntsman Center for graduation. These assembled graduates didn’t just qualify for their diplomas. They persevered through a pandemic. They went to school next to a construction zone. And, as it was humorously brought up during the commencement ceremony by Senior Class Vice President James Tillotson, this courageous and charismatic group also persisted through countless numbers of packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while their cafeteria was renovated and then experienced an opening delay due to supply chain issues. “We changed just as much as our school did,” student speaker Danielle Gibson said. She had Alta seniors open their phones and scroll through photos going back to August 2018 when they entered the Sandy high school as freshmen. They’ve been through a lot. Experienced a lot. Took photos and screen shots a lot. And had more life happen that didn’t end up in their phones. Twenty-one Alta seniors earned perfect 4.0 grades throughout their four years in high school. Thirty-five earned at least a 3.9 GPA. There were 700 honor cords awarded, 57% of the Hawks earned advanced degrees, and 128 seniors put in the required 200 service hours to receive the coveted Hawk Medallion. This remarkable class also earned nearly $8 million in scholarships, with 48% of seniors receiving scholarship offers from schools around the state and nation. Meanwhile, they flocked to attend the amazing school plays and musicals, supported athletics teams in an impressive manner. Some of the Hawks even ditched the graduation ceremony so they could go win a Class 5A boys soccer championship over Lehi in the afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium. “Today is a rite of passage. You can do hard things,” Alta Principal Ken Rowley said. “You are the future leaders of our country and society.” Rowley, who replaced beloved principal Dr. Brian McGill, let the Hawks know he’s their biggest cheerleader. The former basketball coach also borrowed a quote from former University of Utah women’s coach Elaine Elliott, who said, “Perfection is less than the pleasure of the pursuit.” He added to that, “Take joy in the journey.” Canyons District Superintendent Dr. Rick Robins said it’s an inspiration to see the Hawks finish what they started in the fall of 2009, months after Canyons opened up as a District. “You are the bright future.” Dr. McGill, Dr. Robins, and Board of Education Members Holly Neibaur and Amanda Oaks awarded the diplomas to the seniors, while Rowley gave them a handshake on the way back to their seats. Tillotson added the comedic punch to a delightful ceremony. He emphasized that it’s important to cherish what you have when you have it because it can be gone at any time — like the school lunches they grumbled about before the kitchen was shut down for an extended period, even after the beautiful new high school reopened after undergoing a renovation. But the Hawks did it. They endured those PB&Js until their tastebuds were finally awarded again this spring. Added Tillotson: “We’ll do anything to have that sweet taste of orange chicken.”

Brighton High

A JK Rowling quote was repeated during Brighton High’s graduation program Wednesday afternoon at the Maverik Center. “You’re a graduate, Harry!” The actual quote: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” The way the Bengals have dealt with adversity has certainly been a strength of the Class of 2022. That, one student speaker joked, even includes the strength gained while trekking up and down stairs in their beautiful new high school, which opened this past fall. “We found out every day is leg day,” she joked. Another student speaker, who joked that being salutatorian “basically means I’m almost as smart as Maddy,” lauded his classmates for crossing the finish line after many of them began their K-12 journey just months after Canyons School District became a District. “The time we’ve been working for is finally here. We actually made it!” And in style! This group of Bengals excelled at all aspects of high school — academics, leading to them earning $6.5 million in scholarships, to have 271 enroll in college, and for 27 to earn a 4.0 GPA for four years. It was clear by their performances, championships and awards they earned in athletics and performing arts that they excel in those departments, and, let’s be honest, they managed to be awesome during a period when it wasn’t always easy to be that way. The 517 graduates were encouraged by speakers to “always strive to be the better versions of ourselves,” to never stop believing in themselves even if it takes going through four high schools to find a place that fits, to grasp the future, and to overcome obstacles in the way. Just like they surmounted two pandemics — “COVID-19 and seniorities,” as one speaker humorously put it.” Don’t forget the construction, another senior added. “We put on our masks and walked through the construction zones to get here.” It was worth the walk. “As we go through challenging times, it’s really important to look for silver linings,” Principal Tom Sherwood encouraged his outgoing students. Board of Education Member Amber Shill hoped the Bengals would continue having the positive mindset, courage and curiosity that helped them achieve so much in high school. “You’re at an envious point of your lives. You’ve worked hard yet have so many experiences ahead.” She also told them a humble message Albert Einstein used to share: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This much the Bengals and everyone who’s come across their paths knows. They know how to work hard and play hard. “It’s an honor to be with you on this awesome occasion,” CSD Superintendent Dr. Rick Robins said. “I’m very, very proud of you all.”

Corner Canyon High

“No day but today.” It may have been the familiar chorus of a Broadway song performed by the Corner Canyon concert choir at commencement exercises Wednesday evening, but it also may well have been the theme of the outstanding group of seniors who walked across the stage to receive their diplomas at Charger Stadium. “I never grow tired of this sight,” Principal Darrell Jensen told the graduating seniors who were seated in rows of white chairs on the football field. “It’s a privilege to be your principal.” Reflecting on the school year, Jensen said this year’s class truly “set a legacy that will be tough to follow” for future classes of CCHS, which this year was ranked by U.S. News and World Report at the No. 1 comprehensive public high school in Utah. The list of accomplishments is impressive, indeed. Among the honors: $15.3 million in scholarship offers, two dozen students with perfect 4.0 grade-point averages, five who earned associates degrees at the same time they received high school diplomas, three National Merit Scholar recipients, and 5,000 hours of service done by CCHS National Honor Society students. Theater students won the sweepstakes award for their division at the national high school Shakespeare competition, student-musicians earned top scores in adjudicated contests, and Career and Technical Education students won top honors in their categories. What’s more, Jensen said, seven students have enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. Athletically, the Chargers captured team state championships in track and field and mountain biking, 10 individual state trophies, and the Deseret News’ titles of the 6A Player of the Year, Devin Brown, and Mr. Football, Cody Hagen. The school also raised a whopping $86,000 this year for charity. Student Sydney Reid lauded her teacher for their commitment and her peers for “lifting each other up” in challenging times, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic upended classwork, activities, and such rites of passage as proms and Friday Night Lights. Perhaps the hardships of the pandemic, she said, made the graduates “appreciate what we have in the face of inexplicable events.” The wellness protocols and the seemingly endless changes to the schedule because of case counts “hit us so suddenly,” said student Nadia Chanthaphuang “We didn’t see it coming.” However, she said, the seniors took to heart the encouragement to adjust to “the new normal” and press forward to make their time in high school the best it could be. Superintendent Dr. Rick Robins said the pandemic inspired character traits that will serve the seniors well throughout their lives. “It taught us to love a little more, give a little grace, give kindness, because you don’t know what others are going through,” he said. Canyons Board of Education member Holly Neibaur, whose son Ty graduated on Wednesday, said she saw first-hand how CCHS students, be they castmates in one of Corner Canyon’s top-notch musicals or teammates on a winning athletic team, acted as good, loyal friends who cheered each other in victory and lifted each other up after losses. As the graduates spring into the world from their start in Draper and the CSD community, said Board of Education member Amanda Oaks, whose son Orson also graduated from CCHS this year, “I hope that you will take a piece of this community with you.”

Hillcrest High

Own every second. While not the designated theme for Hillcrest High’s 2022 graduation ceremony, this was the mantra chosen and embraced by students to carry them through the school year. For the Class of 2022, arriving at graduation day was no walk in the park. Three of their four high school years were disrupted by COVID tests, quarantines, and remote learning — not to mention the construction of a new campus, the “Devious Licks” social media challenge, and other unforeseen bumps in the road. But beating the odds will go down as their legacy. “We live in unpredictable times, yet we are still standing here today with another breath in our lungs, which is amazing,” said senior Aya Hameed. “We made it. We made it to the end of our senior year and to the start of something new.” More than that, the Huskies excelled, earning nearly $6.5 million in college scholarships, 1,145 college credits through concurrent enrollment, and completing 820 Advanced Placement tests and 414 International Baccalaureate tests. Double the number students from last year earned Seals of Biliteracy. There were seven National Merit Scholar finalists, a Sterling Scholar winner, and 23 Academic All-State winners. Seven students have committed to play their sport at the college level, and students this year reaped more state, regional, and national awards in the fine arts and performing arts than Principal Greg Leavitt was able to fully enumerate at the school’s May 25 commencement ceremony. “The Class of 2022 has undoubtedly been one of the most successful and outstanding classes of Hillcrest,” said Student Body President Jinwoo Jason Mun. “You’re all here today, because you took the opportunity to own every second.” They also managed to contribute more than 10,000 hours of service to their school and communities. In attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony were Board members Mont Millerberg and Steve Wrigley, and Canyons’ Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bob Dowdle. True to tradition, Principal Leavitt interrupted the proceedings to ask the graduates to stand and thank their families. He also sang an a cappella version of “Happy Holidays,” the lyrics of which were surprisingly fit for the occasion. But when it came time to deliver parting remarks, Leavitt ripped up his speech and told a personal story about his own struggles as a student to earn a math degree in college, which he later parlayed into a teaching career. Math didn’t come naturally, and there might have been a few failing grades on his transcripts, but he said he persevered, one second, one day, and one year at a time. “My point is,” he said, “the mountain top is the same for everyone. The work to get to the mountain top is different. But when you get to the top, the waterfall and the beautiful trees are still there.” Knowing there will be more mountains to climb, Leavitt encouraged students to take this moment to enjoy the view. “Every one of you has completed the requirements to be here, regardless of the challenges,” he said. “So, when you walk through those halls do so with pride.”

Jordan High

“Unbeatable together” was the message that Jordan High Student Body President Lucy Ballou emphasized Wednesday as she welcomed her fellow Jordan seniors to the Maverik Center for graduation rites for the Beetdiggers’ Class of 2022. Through the uncharted waters of their high school career, which was marked by the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan’s seniors worked hard to create a support system to lift each other up when times were tough. But tough times make for tough people — and there are none tougher than the ‘Diggers who overcame challenges to graduate against the odds. Graduate Edison Byiringiro recounted how Jordan High was “a home for from home” that allowed him, a Rwandan refugee, to dream and become the first person in his family to attend college. Principal Dr. Bruce Eschler encouraged the graduates, who have earned over $7.7 million in scholarship offers, to reflect on their dreams as they move into the next stage of their life. Eighty-four percent of the graduating class earned college credit in their time at Jordan High, which has saved the students $1.7 million in college tuition, said Dr. Eschler, while 58 percent of the JHS seniors plan to attend a college or a university in the fall. As the seniors move into that next stage in their life, Dr. Eschler urged them to take note of the positive relationships they have built throughout their years as Beetdiggers and then use that inspiration to grow into the person they want to become. Canyons Board of Education member Steve Wrigley urged the graduates, who were clad in flowing robes in the school colors, to live a life of intention and significance, a life that does not come from fame or self-importance, but a life that comes from making a difference. A difference exists when you can tap into your “why” when you know what you want your life to say, he said. Once you find your “why” Wrigley said, you then will be able to find your way. He closed by thanking the teachers, administration, and staff for all the hard work they did to get the students to graduation, especially considering the tumult of the past few years. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bob Dowdle echoed appreciation for the parents and teachers who taught, supported, and mentored Jordan High students at home, school, and in the community. To the Class of 2022, Dr. Dowdle encouraged them to be aware of how they treat the people around them. “We need more people in this world who are generous, considerate, and empathetic,” he said. “I invite you to choose kindness.”

Diamond Ridge High

Don’t tell the 46 graduates of Diamond Ridge High that something is impossible. Because, as Principal Amy Boettger said at the school’s 2022 graduation ceremony, quoting the great Nelson Mandela, “it always seems impossible, until it’s done.” This year’s graduating seniors have faced individual challenges compounded by the added challenge of crossing the K-12 finish line in the third year of a pandemic, “struggling with motivation, and just feeling tired and ready to be done,” Boettger said. “But these students you see here worked past that impossible feeling. They kept going, no matter how many times they got knocked down … and today they will be receiving their diplomas to show for all that work.” In its eight years, the small, tight-knit home of the Raptors has become the school of choice for a growing number of students. Speaking at the school’s May 24 graduation ceremony, Ava Bolen shared how she went from being a “straight-A student” to “struggling to find the motivation” to push on in high school. “We came here because regular high school wasn’t working out for us,” Bolen said. “But one of the most important things I’ve learned is that the path to graduating is not one-size-fits-all.” Canyons Board of Education member Clareen Arnold, a supporter of Diamond Ridge when it was just an idea, assured the graduates, “We know of the great accomplishments here.” Whether you know it or not, said Arnold to the graduates, “You are my heroes. You have always been my heroes. You have inspired me for years, you have helped me set new goals every year. You have helped me be a better Board member, teacher, parent, and grandparent.” Also in attendance was Board President Nancy Tingey, Canyons Superintendent Dr. Rick Robins, and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bob Dowdle who recognized teachers and staff for their tireless commitment, and paused the ceremony to applaud parents and family members in attendance. “Your work, prodding, reminding, mentoring, and teaching made an impact,” Dowdle said. “This is a big day for you as well.” Offering a few parting words of wisdom, Dowdle added that, no matter what the future has in store, “one choice that will define you is how you treat your fellow man. Graduates, I invite you to choose kindness. This world needs more people who choose to be considerate, generous, and empathetic.” In a tribute to his mother, and all those who have had a hand in his success, graduate Alda Gatica compared the coming years to the migration of the Monarch butterfly. “Today we meet our destiny and this 3,000-mile migration,” he said. “Many different routes will be taken, but they all started in the same place, a place that will always be the first gust of wind under our wings.”

South Park Academy

No ceremony this year

Entrada Adult High

“We are finding a way through, not a way out.” That was the theme for Entrada High’s graduation ceremony Thursday night at Jordan High School, and there couldn’t have been a more fitting statement to describe the Class of 2022. The first student speaker, Michael Gillich, who suffered a severe head injury that left him blind in 2004, decided to come back to school to earn his diploma at the age of 57. Another classmate, who’s also 57, graduated within weeks of her granddaughter. Graduate speaker Parker Fife admitted to being a “shoddy student, at best” when he got sidetracked from a positive path while at Hillcrest High a couple of years ago. Once he got used to Entrada’s strict attendance policy and no-excuses way of learning, Fife thrived at Canyon School District’s adult education high school. He shared a quote from Hamlet: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” Like many of the 107 graduates from Entrada — 73 of whom participated in the pomp and circumstances — Fife has a much better feel for what he’s capable of after doing what it took to graduate. “Thank you to the administration and teachers for giving me a fair shot when nobody else would,” he added. Entrada principal Amy Boettger, who credited vice principal Mark Mataya for handling the day-to-day duties at the school, complimented the graduates for being “the bravest people you’ll ever meet.” For a variety of reasons, each student stumbled in their educational journeys but picked themselves up and persevered to earn their diplomas. “You are my heroes and role models for all of us,” Boettger said. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams. I know you’re going to do amazing things because you already have.” Graduate speaker Afano Laufau recited the R.L. Sharpe poem “A Bag of Tools” in her inspiring speech. “Isn’t it strange that princes and kings, and clowns that caper in sawdust rings, and common people like you and me, are builders for eternity? Each is given a bag of tools, a shapeless mass, a book of rules; and each must make — ere life is flown — a stumbling block or a steppingstone.” She asked her classmates two questions: “What kind of builders will we now become and what will we build?”

Jordan Valley School

Stacey Nofsinger arrived at Jordan Valley School’s completion ceremony resolving to “keep it together.” She brought a box of tissues just in case. But it was her students who came to the rescue when emotions surfaced while she described the miraculous behavioral milestones of one of her graduates. Seeing their principal in some distress, five of the evening’s honorees seated at the front of the auditorium broke into spontaneous applause, bringing some levity to the occasion and a wry smile to Nofsinger’s face. “Thank you parents,” she said, “for sharing your students with us.” Determined. Patient. Adaptable. These are but a few of the qualities embodied by those aging out of Jordan Valley. Like the color-changing superpower of the school’s mascot, they are one in a chameleon, remarked Canyons Special Education Director Misty Suarez. Jordan Valley students range in age from kindergarten to 22, which means the school’s staff and faculty have known the students who received completion certificates on May 20 for the better part of two decades. “I recognize that leaving the familiar setting and routines of Jordan Valley brings many emotions. Such a change can be daunting,” said Canyons Board of Education President Nancy Tingey. “Yet we move forward having confidence that, like the chameleon, we can adapt to what is to come, and in doing so will find joy each day in this beautiful, colorful, and ever-changing world.” In an emotional tribute to Ethan Attermann (Class of ’22) who passed away this year Nofsinger presented his parents with a framed completion certificate, complete with a rainbow-colored tassel. Also in attendance at the event were Canyons Board member Mont Millerberg and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bob Dowdle. The Canyons District community offers its heartfelt congratulations to Jordan Valley’s Class of 2022: Obaida Hmeida, Noah Imig, Ali Ismail, Monique Lopez, Davis McKinlay, Moses Seley, and Jade Stephens.

Canyons Transition Academy

“Well, we made it guys. It’s been a couple of tough years. There were some really unique challenges these students have faced. … I know I speak for my staff that we will miss every one of their personalities.” That satisfying and sweet thought by Special Education Administrator Nate Edvalson was one of the encouraging messages shared on the stage during the Canyons Transition Academy’s Class of 2022 Commencement Ceremony. Likewise, Board of Education Member Steve Wrigley commended the 13 students moving on from the program for 18-to-22-year-olds for the “amazing things” they’ve done. He reiterated the program’s motto, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Wrigley let the students know he admires them for “always fighting, always trying.” One of the Commencement honorees added some humor to the heartfelt ceremony, striking a pose on stage while receiving his certificate of completion, making a rock-on hand signal and telling the amused crowd, “You guys know I like rock and roll!” The Class of 2022 is ready to rock it in the real world after receiving vocational and social-skills training. They learned how to navigate public transportation, how to get and hold a job, how to be more independent, and a variety of other lessons that should prove valuable throughout their lives. While expressing gratitude for teachers and parents who’ve given so much time, energy and love to these special young adults, Wrigley urged the students to aim high in life, to make dreams, and to work with friends and family members to reach those goals. “Each one of you will make a difference in the world,” Wrigley added. “Do not give up. You can accomplish your dreams.” Continuing a fun tradition, younger CTA students supported their friends with hugs, laughs, cheers, and a large “Congrats” poster with hand-written messages outside of the building after the ceremony.

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Lucie Chamberlain

Alta View Elementary

If a movie about super teachers were ever made, Lucie Chamberlain would be a prime candidate for a leading role. Fortunately for her kindergarten students at Alta View Elementary, she already thrives in a supporting role for them. Parents thank her for being a “super teacher.” She is also described as an “amazing colleague.” Whether students need help in the classroom or from home while sick, Lucie goes above and beyond to help them learn, overcome fears, and feel important and cared for. Lucie is the reason a number of kids went from hating school to loving it, according to parents. The way she exudes patience, sweetness, positive energy, and love for her students with special needs melts is appreciated and admired. One parent noted: “Both my kids wish she could be their teacher forever.” Another added:  “She treats every student like their learning and their feelings are her priority.” Super teacher, indeed!

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