‘This class has a fire inside’


Photos by Cameron Jagoe/SiuslawPhotos.com & Zac Burtt/Siuslaw News

Celebrating Siuslaw High School's Class of 2022

June 15, 2022 — A welcome feeling of normalcy returned to end of the high school year in Florence as the community bid farewell to the Siuslaw High Class of 2022 on June 10 at the Siuslaw High gymnasium.

Last year, graduates were masked and sat six feet apart, guests were limited in number and masked, and the specter of COVID-19 hung over the ceremony. This year stood in stark contrast. 

A packed house watched 78 Siuslaw seniors say their goodbyes to the community that has supported them during their twelve year journey through the secondary education system.

After the crowd filled the gym the Siuslaw Symphonic Band played Pomp and Circumstance and the graduates entered the gym in twos.

Graduate Alizabeth Norton sang the “Star Spangled Banner” to open the ceremony.

Next, SHS Principal Mike Harklerode introduced Outstanding Senior Girl Winnie Zhen.

Zhen’s speech started by showing her appreciation for what, after her senior year, she realizes are the important things.

“Thank you to all the teachers, staff, administrators, and families of the graduates for supporting us,” she said. “I would also like to especially thank my family for encouraging and giving me the love I need to succeed. Most importantly of all, I would like to think the existence of coffee, as it gives me the power to function in my daily life.”

Then Zhen proceeded to tell a remarkable story. Though she moved to Florence in the first grade, she did not speak at school — not once — until she was in eighth grade. She had a condition called Selective Mutism. For nine years of school, none of her peers heard her voice. 

When she finally did speak, she credited the support she received from her fellow students.

“The feelings of relief and joy were spectacular,” remembered Zhen. “What really caused me to gather my bravery was encouragement of my friends I made in the small town of Florence, Ore. I found people who reached out not out of pity, but because they had genuine interest in regard to the kind of person I was. Those people were the ones I would dream of having small and meaningful conversations with. 

“I found the desire in me to change. I was sick and tired of the situation I was in. I no longer wanted to suppress this unique emotion in me to connect with people. And so, on the first day of eighth grade, I started to talk.”

After Zhen, it was time to hear from Outstanding Senior Boy Camp Lacouture. He started his speech by confirming what Zhen knew; when she finally did speak, her classmates were excited to hear from her.

“Winnie is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I can’t believe I went nine years without talking to her,” said Lacouture as he arrived at the podium.

He then went on to express his gratitude to all that helped him get to that moment. 

“Thank you all for everything,” Lacouture began. “I’ve been in Florence all my life and this class right here, this group of kids, has been with me the entire way. I appreciate everything you all have done for me. Thank you to all the adult mentors in my life as well. All my teachers, my school staff, all my coaches and everyone and anyone that has led me by example.”

Lacouture also talked about what makes the Class of 2022 special.

“I can see this class has a fire inside that has been a fuel to this school for a while,” Lacouture said. “You younger kids, I can see you guys look up to us. You guys are getting excited. We have tons of kids out for next year's three seasons of sports, and this year hasn't even ended. Kids are joining and starting clubs like crazy and staying focused and keeping their academics up. We have seriously brought the drive. I consider each and every one of you my friends. And if we're enemies, I've forgotten why, you have to remind me.”

After the Outstanding Senior Girl and Boy speeches, the SHS Jazz Band entertained the crowd for a period with many seniors leaving their seats amongst the senior class and joining their bandmates for the performance.

The presentation of diplomas was next. Senior Class President Zoe Alberty received hers first and then proceeded to call each senior up individually. 

Siuslaw School Board directors John Barnett and Brian Lacouture handed out the diplomas, along with a congratulatory handshake.

Another song by the Symphonic Band played before the senior athletes in attendance stood to enthusiastically song Siuslaw’s alma mater. 

Finally, the moment everyone in attendance, especially the seniors, had been waiting for.

“This is the fun part, so get the cameras ready,” Harklerode said. “On behalf of the entire Siuslaw School Board of Directors ...”

“… and on behalf of Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak …” added Siuslaw High Vice-Principal Garth Gerot.

“… and on behalf of the entire Siuslaw School District Staff …” continued Siuslaw High Vice Principal Bev Scott.

“… it is our pleasure to present the graduating Class of 2022,” said Harklerode, Gerot and Scott in unison as the seniors triumphantly threw their caps in the air to complete the ceremony.

To watch the 2022 Siuslaw High Class of 2022 Graduation in full, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6wM6E04pTM.