By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Their featured speaker is a self-admitted kindergarten dropout.
Their five most accomplished scholars quoted everyone from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw to former President Lyndon Johnson to JRR Tolkien's andquot;Hobbitandquot; hero, Bilbo Baggins, during the most important speech of their young lives.
The 118 members of Baker High School's Class of 2003 who received their diplomas Sunday afternoon celebrated commencement in front of a packed home-side crowd at Bulldog Memorial Stadium. And rather than pull out cans of Silly String or keep a beachball in the air during the speeches, the seniors managed to enjoy themselves by simply receiving the love and good wishes of their gathered families and friends.
The only overt celebration was the one that's traditional: at the very end of the ceremony, as graduates have no doubt done since the invention of the mortar board, the Class of 2003 took off their caps and tossed them in the air after a signal from their principal.
Then they were off to the many parties thrown in their honor. Part of the fun and challenge of graduation day, more than one graduate said, was to cram in as many parties and the goodies they each featured as is humanly possible.
But before they could party even before they could finger the sheepskins they'd earned they had to listen to their academically gifted classmates and to featured speaker Carla Taylor, women's basketball coach at Weber State University and a 1979 Powder Valley High School graduate.
andquot;You guys thought you were done being lectured to,andquot; she teased the graduates during her talk.
A long bus ride from home to kindergarten class caused carsickness and led Taylor to drop out of school at a tender age, but she atoned for that early failure by graduating from the university where she now coaches after stellar careers in both basketball and track.
andquot;I remember my grandpa telling my father, 'She'll never amount to anything,'andquot; Taylor said.
Saying she was andquot;humbled and honoredandquot; to speak to the graduates, Taylor told them to take care of four tasks: find something they're passionate about, think outside the box, keep a balance between life's highs and lows, and andquot;remember to thank the people along the way who helped you to where you are today.andquot;
Valedictorians Nathan Defrees and Matt Jager both picked up on that last theme.
While andquot;life has a way of letting you know when you've done something wrong,andquot; Defrees ticked off what he considers the advantages to growing up in Baker County: leaving your bike or car unlocked, being trusted with leadership positions even as a youth and enjoying the generosity of Baker County benefactor Leo Adler.
andquot;Good people have been mentored by good people,andquot; he said. andquot;Thank you, Baker City.andquot;
Like George Bernard Shaw, Jager said life to him andquot;is a splendid torch that I have a hold of for a few moments.andquot;
He told his classmates they were andquot;free to pursue our dreams without fear of persecutionandquot; but that, as inheritors of Shaw's torch, they can either andquot;light up the whole world, or reduce the world to ashes.andquot;
Salutatorian David Henry told how his life changed following a church outing last year andquot;when I changed my worldview from living life for myself to learning what I can do to serve others.andquot;
Jed Rembold quoted Bilbo Baggins: andquot;The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow if I can, pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.andquot;
andquot;We've walked that road for 18 years, and found companions along the way,andquot; he said. andquot;What we're left with are three pillars: ourselves, our future teachers and each other.andquot;
Sean Tomlinson said he was lucky to be born when he was.
andquot;Science has opened up space, the cells of the human body and the potential of the human mind,andquot; he said. andquot;It's in this era we're blessed to exist.andquot;
Sunday marked a beginning for the Class of 2003, he said.
andquot;We have new friends to meet and more happiness to be found,andquot; he said. andquot;We've all got people to meet and places to go.andquot;