Hermiston High School Says Goodbye to 368 Graduating Seniors

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The 2024 Hermiston High School graduating class get ready to receive their diplomas June 6, 2024, at the beginning of the ceremony at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

A packed house cheered on 368 Hermiston High School seniors Thursday night as they received their diplomas at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash.

Gisselle Rivera opened her welcoming remarks with a message in Spanish to her parents saying she hoped she had made them proud. Transitioning to English, Rivera spoke to all the parents of graduating seniors in attendance.

“We are trying our hardest to make you proud,” she said. “We couldn’t have done this without you.”

Javier Sebastian Garcia receives his diploma June 6, 2024, at the Hermiston High School graduation ceremony at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

Rivera said she and her fellow seniors began high school in “uncertainty” in 2020 as the COVID pandemic turned high school life upside down with distance learning and isolation from friends and classmates.

“It was a really surreal introduction to high school life,” she said, adding that “the hardship prepared us for what lies ahead.”

She encouraged her cohorts to “focus on lesson learned and the memories we made.”

A second set of welcoming remarks were given in Spanish by Leslie Mendoza Romero.

HHS Principal Tom Spoo highlighted the academic achievements of the Class of 2024, noting that 31 seniors received Honors diplomas, 92 graduated with honors, 10 have been admitted into the military and 77 seniors received a cumulative total of $3.9 million in scholarships. Of that total, $370,000 in scholarship money came from Umatilla County organizations.

Emma Rayne Spencer Sims receives her diploma June 6, 2024, at the Hermiston High School graduation ceremony at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

“Take a moment to reflect on the journey that brought you here,” Spoo told the graduating class. “You’ve gained knowledge, developed skills and made friends.” But, he said, more than that is needed in life.

“You need morals and ethics to guide you through the complexities of the world,” Spoo said. “May honesty and kindness be your default setting.”

In closing, Spoo asked one thing of the Class of 2024.

“Use your talents to make a positive impact,” he said.

In her Class History, Annikah Perez noted the cartoons, singers and movies that shaped her classmates. She remembered being in fourth grade and seeing her name next to the words Class of 2024 and wondered if that year would ever arrive.

“It seemed so far away,” she said. “But soon, it will be our turn to say, ‘Back in my day’ and people will roll their eyes.”

Family and friends celebrate upon hearing their student’s name to receive their diploma June 6, 2024, at the graduation ceremony at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

Perez told her fellow classmates that “you can’t change the beginning, but you can change the future.”

Amy Wooster gave the Class Prophecy and pointed out that the graduating class spent roughly 5,000 hours in high school classes and a total of around 15,000 hours total in their 12 years of secondary education.

The future, she said, is different for everyone.

“Some of us are excited and some of us are shaking in our shoes about the uncertainty of the future,” Wooster said. But she reminded the seniors, “We’ve made it and we’ve done this together.”

Wooster said “it doesn’t matter where we go or what we do. The only thing that matters is how we enjoy life and what we make of it. The only constant in life is you, so do what make you happy.”

Hermiston School District Superintendent Dr. Tricia Mooney told the graduating class that they are “closing one chapter and beginning your next chapter.”

Mooney told her students that when they leave here tonight, “you will leave a little of you with us. Everyone who is here tonight is here because of what you did and what you accomplished.”

Mooney said the Class of 2024 is “the class that brought it. You brought state titles, school spirit, national qualifiers, laughter, knowledge and change.”

The 2024 Hermiston High School graduating class throw their caps in the air June 6, 2024, at the end of the ceremony at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

School Board Chair Sally Hansell said it was her honor to give the class “the most emphatic congratulations on your accomplishments.”

Hansell said the students graduating Thursday night are set apart from other students.

“You dealt with all kinds of different people, rules that might not have felt fair, systems where you had to jump through one hoop to the next,” Hansell said. “It probably felt like one big group project. Well, I get to remind you that you are stronger because of it.”

Hansell said the students made their way through four years in a large school system which is unique compared to many other students.

“It sets you apart from other graduates who experienced the tiny school, the remote school, the online school and the private schools. You have proven to us and yourselves that you can roll with it, that you are strong in the face of adversity, that you’re resilient in the face of failure. These are your strengths and they will serve you well in the next phase of your life.”

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