Sweet Home High School graduated 154 students Friday night in a crowd of Husky green and white.

It was a tight fit in the stands on the school's football field, with family members spilling out onto the turf, younger siblings running about and a stern warning from faculty that ball-playing, Frisbee-throwing and barbecuing would not be permitted.

The school's symphonic choir welcomed the crowd with the national anthem as the sun set, and eight valedictorians were honored during the ceremony. Their speeches ran the gamut of traditional advice. But for Austin Olin, having to speak at all at graduation, he said, was his sister's fault.

"When people asked why I worked so hard to be valedictorian the answer was, 'I had to be better than my sister,'" he said.

Olin said that while he hadn't learned how to do his taxes or open a bank account, he did know that the mitochondria was the power house of the cell after his four years at Sweet Home High School.

"I realize that it was never about the work we were completing," he said. "It was about the work ethic our teachers were instilling in us."

Teacher Michelle Synder was voted by the class — her first after moving to the district three years ago — to speak during the ceremony. After ensuring herself a photo of the class giving her a standing ovation for the effort, she told them to make mistakes; they can lead people in the right direction. Synder, whose own graduation speech 31 years ago focused on the fact that she didn't want to be a teacher, said a "mistake" led her to the profession and, ultimately, Sweet Home.

"Life is not something that happens to you," she said. "You have to take it by the horns. It's a gift you have to steer."

Principal Ralph Brown was also saying goodbye to his first class (he started in the 2015-16 school year) on Friday night and asked the six students who had already signed with the armed forces to stand and be recognized.

Valedictorians Chase Boyd, Sarah Hewitt, Sidney Hooley, Alisha Isabell, Ella Parker, Madelaine Peeks and Kennedi Waldrop reminded the class of its journey to Friday's graduation. They talked of a trip to Linn-Benton Community College in the ninth grade, cardboard pizza, haunted classrooms, basketball games that went into triple overtime and coming down to one point, and college-level courses and coffee addictions that meet them this past year.

Hewitt used her speech to implore her class to take up the cause of climate change.

"Our diplomas may say class of 2019, but we are the class of zero," she said. "Zero emissions, zero time to waste."

Isabell and Hooley opted for a lighter tone, noting that as the class wrestles with questions about its future, there was still good news.

"Sweet Home will always be here," Hooley said. "Give it a few years and you'll probably be back. The future offers opportunity. All of us have one thing in common and it's the experience of Sweet Home High School."

The pair ended their speech by sharing some of the graduation cards they had received over the last few days, landing on a quote from one of their favorites: "Graduation today, world domination tomorrow. Insert gift here."

Sweet Home's Class of 2019 earned $2.18 million in scholarships and grants with students headed for the armed forces, community colleges and universities, including Oregon State University, the University of California, Berkley and Boston University.


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