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Sugar House Journal

Highland High’s 60th graduating class, a ‘courageous’ and ‘very kind’ class

Jun 18, 2018 16h26 ● By Jana Klopsch

Highland high’s Class of 2018 listening to the graduation ceremony. (Courtesy of Island Photography)

By Lawrence Linford | [email protected]

“The day before school started, I was diagnosed with cancer,” said Zach Schreiter to thousands at the Highland High School graduation. However, Schreiter persevered through his illness, had “a very successful first year” and graduated as the senior class president in great health and cancer free.

On a hot and sunny June 6, about 370 Rams became Highland High’s 60th graduating class within the cool comfort of the Jon. M. Huntsman Center.

“This class is very kind,” said Principal Chris Jenson, emphasizing “kind,” a few days before the graduation.

“They are the first class to understand the power of social media, and that civility in social media has to be the future,” said Jenson. “They can mobilize like nobody’s business, but they do it for good purposes.”

Jenson gave as an example the nationwide March 14 student walkout protesting gun violence in our schools.

“Whether they decided to stay in class or walk out—and we had very many students walk out—it had the most congenial and kind atmosphere,” said Jenson.

And while other classes participated in the walkout, Jenson said the general tolerance and respect for each other “was very representative of the temperament of this class.”

Jenson asked the graduates to turn and acknowledge their family and friends behind them because “no one does this alone.” Many family and friends stood up and excitedly waved back; some stretched their arms out so far it looked like they were trying to touch their graduating loved one, hundreds of feet away.

“Highland overall was a super welcoming school,” said Valeti Fonua, the day before graduation. Fonua is the first woman of Polynesian descent elected student body president in Highland’s history. “When I stepped through the doors, seniors were willing to help me go to my classes. They weren’t at all what I pictured; they weren’t big bullies. They were just always so kind, and the administration and faculty were always willing to help.”

Schreiter, sitting next to Fonua during the interview, wasn’t only concerned about his cancer diagnosis as he started school.

“With me being short, I was worried that I was going to be targeted for bullying a lot, but when I entered, it was welcoming,” he said. “Everyone welcomed us with open arms and was willing to help us out.”

At graduation, after the principal’s welcome and Schreiter’s opening remarks, Spencer Jorgensen, the senior class vice president, and Leslie Heredia, the senior class secretary, both came to the mic to present the “Year in Review.” Heredia got lively cheers recalling “beating East in basketball not once, but twice.”

As Jorgensen brought the review to a close, he said, “We will always be a Ram Fam!” Then the two leaned into the microphone and said together, “Class of 2018, we made it!”

Then Selina Vaitohi introduced the senior theme “Unite and Conquer.” She focused on the great accomplishments individuals can achieve by working together. She said “there is a quote that says ‘individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean.’”

A loud, almost deafening cheer rose from the graduates as Fonua approached the podium to give her commencement address. Fonua spoke confidently and naturally. She reviewed the year, praised both the five athletes signed from the 2018 Class and the 10 valedictorians, thanked the Highland faculty and administration, and parents and family. She ended with a thank you, congratulations and a little happy dance.

As the principal approached he said, “Sorry, you won’t get any dance moves out of me.” He introduced the 10 valedictorians and said, “I think we’re the only school that keeps an academic scoreboard. So that’s pretty cool.”

Anna Foulks then gave the Valedictorian Address. Her speech’s theme was “the significance of an open perspective.” Early in the speech, she expressed surprise that this day had arrived so quickly and got some laughs with her self-deprecating comment “those of you, who know me, know I have the spirit of an old lady.” She then stressed that “an open mind is paramount” in understanding and navigating our increasingly complex multicultural world.

Afterward, Jenson delivered his message.

“This class is about courage,” said Jenson. He finished by reading a stirring poem about resiliency entitled “Invictus.”

Jenson then turned to presenting the Taylor Munroe Spirit of Highland Award.

“The winner of the Spirit of Highland Award is kind of a big secret,” said Jenson two days before the ceremony.

The award is named after a former student who demonstrated selflessness, leadership and dedication. Jenson presented the 2018 award to both Schreiter and Fonua.

The previous day, before Schreiter or Fonua knew they would win the award; both talked about what they tried to achieve this year and how they felt about their school.

“We tried this year to incorporate everybody, to get everybody involved so that no one felt left out or forgotten or ‘they don’t care about me,’” said Schreiter.

 “Overall, I feel that Highland has a family feel, and we definitely live to fulfill the Ram Fam,” said Fonua.

“When we go down into the cafeteria, the groups you notice at different schools, you see that they’re all segregated into different sections,” said Fonua. “But at Highland in our lunch rooms, everyone can sit with everyone, and that’s just what we love.”

Shortly after the Spirit of Highland Award presentations, diplomas were awarded. The ceremony fell into that timeless, almost hypnotic graduation rhythm, with the call of graduates’ names followed by the rise and fall of cheers from proud family and friends.

Two days before graduation, Jenson reminisced about this “wonderful” year.

“These kids really have come a long way,” he said. “They are definitely different human beings as graduating seniors than when they come in as freshman. They make a lot of changes in those four years. It’s amazing.”