By Samantha O’Conner

A sunny weekend finally greeted Baker City, and just in time for Baker High School Class of 2019 to receive its diplomas.

A breeze made its way through Bulldog Memorial Stadium Sunday afternoon, offering some relief to hundreds of family and friends sitting in the grandstand as temperatures reached the mid-80s.

Beginning the ceremony, the BHS band, led by Hope Watts, played the graduation hymn as faculty led the seniors onto the field.

Principal Greg Mitchell welcomed everyone to the stadium, giving thanks to the custodians, maintenance, the guidance department for helping coordinate the ceremony, and assistant principal Chelsea Hurliman.

Mitchell acknowledged the Baker School District Board of Education, Superintendent Mark Witty, and Assistant Superintendent Petty Palmer.

He thanked all district staff members, saying “Nearly all of our graduates came up through this district from elementary school all the way through today, therefore every building and every department in our district had a guiding hand in supporting them through the years.”

Mitchell then thanked the graduates’ parents.

“Parents, you protected them, nurtured them, and kept them focused on their goals throughout the duration of their education here,” Mitchell said. “We know how valuable that is to our students’ success and we are indebted to you.”

Mitchell went on to say that the Class of 2019 “has excelled in all areas, including leadership, athletics, citizenship and academics..”

He introduced the salutatorian, Zachary Schwin, who “has distinguished himself in each of those four categories.”

Schwin addressed his fellow graduates saying, “Today is an important day in all of our lives, as we celebrate over a decade of hard work and learning.”

He thanked the parents for the many life lessons they have instilled in their children.

“We could not have made it this far without any of you,” Schwin said. “Everything we have done and have yet to accomplish in our lives starts with you and we will always appreciate the things you have done and sacrifices you have made for us.”

Schwin also lauded the BHS faculty for their efforts to make the students the best they could be.

Schwin then gave words of wisdom to his classmates.

“We will never have more energy, hair, or brain cells than we have today,” he said, telling his fellow graduates that “life is short, smile while you have teeth,” and to not worry about the “world ending today, it’s already tomorrow in Australia.”

Witty introduced commencement speaker Betty Spooner.

“I count it as such a privilege to be here today,” Spooner said. “I count it a privilege to be the voice of many in this community, it’s an exciting time in your life. I count it a privilege to be here, to inspire you just a little bit, to encourage you a lot, and I’m hoping to cheer you on one last time.”

Spooner said that in preparing her remarks she reached out to community members. She read excerpts from several of their submissions.

The first was from Kathryn Colton, a teacher at Baker Middle School.

“So much to say, so little time,” Colton wrote. “First of all, I am very proud of all of you. As a BHS graduate myself, I would like to share a few things I have learned over the years from the people of this great town of ours. Believe in yourself, be your own biggest fan, accept that you will not be perfect, nothing is perfect.

Never quit on your dreams, they will come true. Enjoy the little things because they are the big things. Happiness is a choice, attitude is everything, when you fall, get right back up and never give up. And Always remember graduates, you have all of us here, from your hometown, ready to help you with anything and cheering you on all the way.”

Spooner asked all of the parents, or those who were raising one of the graduates, to stand. She then asked the students to find their parents and thank them.

Spooner also quoted a message from Ginger Savage, director of the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center.

“The class of 2019 has grown up and helped build some of the bedrock programs of Crossroads, including Missoula Children’s Theatre,” Savage wrote. “(Your) whole lives in Baker City, you have witnessed a town being revitalized by the arts. Go forth and celebrate arts and culture every step of your journey. See more art, listen to more music, go to more theatre, be transformed by the arts. Today, Crossroads is cheering for you.”

Barbara Stiff, the grandmother of graduate Dylan Mastrude, also contributed a comment to Spooner.

“Perseverance is the hard work that you do after you have done the hard work,” Stiff wrote. “Challenges produce perseverance. Perseverance, character and hope. Persevere.”

Spooner said she thought about all of the people she could contact to give encouragement with the graduate s.

“No doubt there would be dozens,” she said.

Her final message was from Adriene Oster, a BHS teacher whom students last fall had originally suggested as a commencement speaker.

Spooner quoted from Oster, who received flowers and hugs from graduates receiving diplomas.

“As a teacher, our mission is to inspire young minds, we write and we rewrite lesson plans to accomplish this very thing,” Oster wrote. “But what happens when all of this flips and these young minds (behind me) inspire us? We think deeper, we care more, we fight harder, and we heal faster because we are better people when we are around them.”

Spooner then quoted from the song, “You’ve Got A Friend in Me.” The lyrics, she said, “say exactly what I have wanted to share with you today.”

Valedictorian Morgan Delaney Stone spoke next, recounting a conversation she once had with her teacher at Keating Elementary, Kathy Shaw.

She would tell Shaw she was tired and would always get the response, “Hi, Tired, I’m Mrs. Shaw."

Stone said she went by a wide spectrum of names.

“It’s almost like I have a bunch of little identities depending on where I am. Finding your identity in high school is a universally difficult thing. Developmental psychologists, teen novel writers and young, angst poets all agree that finding out who you are in adolescence is tough, as you struggle between who you’ve been, who you want to be, and who you are.”

Stone said that living in a small town can be a blessing and a curse.

Baker City is “comfortably consistent,” she said, meaning that even when you leave for years, when you return you still see the Geiser Grand Hotel still standing and people you’ve known for years.

“I have seen my classmates grow up over the years into truly incredible people,” Stone said. “Year after year, I’m amazed by their maturity, sincerity and resilience that are in the graduating class of 2019. I’ve seen this in how opinions are expressed, disagreements are handled, trials are faced, how a success has bloomed and by how their peers are treated.”

Stone said she respects her classmates and feels a sense of pride in being one of that group.

“This is our class and it has become a part of our lives,” Stone said.

She noted that she and her classmates will take a variety of paths from here, some attending college or a trade school, serving in the military or moving straight into a career.

“I look forward to seeing where life brings you all,” she said.

Stone shared a quote from Robert F. Kennedy: “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

“It’s a simple quote but I feel that it’s an important thing to remember,” Stone said. “It’s truly what we should all be striving for at the end of the day. If there is a way to make even one person’s day a little brighter, then it’s an opportunity that should be seized.”

As the graduates made their way to receive their diplomas, each handed a pink carnation to Oster, with a card that had a lyric from her favorite song on one side and a personal note from the students on the other.

The new graduates walked to the other side of the field as their senior farewell song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” played.

Cheers, whistles, cow bells and air horns added to the celebration of the graduation of class 2019.