Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Members of the 2019 Baker High School graduating class have been frustrated in their attempt to honor one of their teachers as the keynote speaker during their commencement ceremony on June 2.

That frustration has been eased somewhat, however, after a compromise was forged in meetings involving school officials, students and their parents.

“The senior leadership group did a phenomenal job working through that,” Superintendent Mark Witty said.

The issue arose after students decided last fall during Pep Week activities that they wanted to ask Adriene Oster to speak. Oster, who has taught social science at BHS since 1995, knows most of the upcoming graduates because they were required to take her Diversified Occupations class as juniors, said Emily Black, the 2018-19 student body president.

“She was awesome in setting an example of being supportive of everyone and pushing everyone to do your best,” Black said.

Oster was hired this school year to serve as Future Center facilitator and Work Force Development coordinator, positions that have similar career-development goals for students.

The students also wanted to honor Oster as the commencement speaker because of the illness she has faced throughout the school year.

“Her battle with cancer has inspired us and we just thought it would be really great to hear from her,” Black said.

Students were told in the fall that a long-standing practice prohibited teachers currently employed in the District to speak at graduation.

An exception was made in 2016 when Thomas Joseph, at the time a first-year language arts teacher at BHS, addressed the graduates. But Ben Merrill was the principal at the time and he chose to break the previous past practice adopted in the late 1990s when teacher David Johnson, who will retire this year, was invited to speak.

Current principal Greg Mitchell said Leadership adviser Toni Zikmund discussed the past practice with him and he sought advice from former longtime BHS princi pal, Jerry Peacock.

Mitchell said he learned from Peacock that asking current staff members to speak at graduation hadn’t been encouraged during Peacock’s tenure because it caused some issues with other staff members back when Johnson spoke.

“Culturally, we don’t want to have any animosity among our staff members,” Mitchell said, noting that he had told staff when he came to the District three years ago that he would follow past protocol that had helped make BHS a great school.

So, students were told they could choose their speaker, with the only proviso being that they could not choose a current staff member, Mitchell said.

Students were not happy with Mitchell’s decision and wanted to push a little further, Black said. That push started about a month ago.

A group collected 75 student signatures and presented them to Black asking her to pursue the matter on their behalf.

“Mr. Mitchell said he’d look into it,” Black said about the students’ desire to retain Oster as the graduation speaker. Mitchell returned with the same answer for students.

“He said he wouldn’t be willing to make an exception and he wasn’t going to be budging,” Black said.

See more in the May 24, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.