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West Albany graduates 'appreciate time' in 2021 commencement
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West Albany graduates 'appreciate time' in 2021 commencement

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Time. That was the theme people kept coming back to at the graduation ceremony for the West Albany High School Class of 2021. Time — lost, gained, appreciated and taken for granted.

That’s nothing new for a graduation, right? Looking back has been a staple of commencements for generations. But for a cohort that saw their junior and senior years upended by a global pandemic and played out through computer screens, the lessons of time rang even truer.

One of the class valedictorians, Patrizia Alpapara, summarized it best in her speech to the gathered parents, students, teachers and administrators at Memorial Stadium on Thursday evening.

“2020 was the year of drawbacks, but it was also a year of enlightenment,” Alpapara said. Being forced to learn from home, and missing the major social milestones and events of their senior year, caused so many of these young people to view their time together differently.

She said that she, like so many kids, spent most of her school years wishing time would hurry up and pass. In elementary school, she couldn’t wait for middle school. In middle school, she couldn’t wait for high school. In high school, she couldn’t wait for college.

But the words of a middle school teacher took on new importance for her once she stopped to think about them: “Don’t ever wish time away. It does a good enough job of passing by all on its own.”

“Who knew that going to school would be what some of us missed most?” Alpapara said before posing an even deeper question. “Should it have taken a deadly global pandemic for us to appreciate those things?”

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Another top classmate, Justin Whittier, also focused on time in his speech. He quoted John Lennon’s famous words, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” and said that the entire class of 2021 has learned how precious time is.

Class president L.J. Carmichael, who had the difficult task of reading every name as diplomas were handed out, said that there was no avoiding the reality. “We are the COVID pandemic class of West Albany High School,” Carmichael said.

It was reflected in the ceremony, as graduates were spaced out six feet apart, and they were limited to four ticket-holders for their family and friends who wanted to attend, just as other area schools have done this year. Thanks to a limited, outdoor ceremony, most students and attendees went without masks.

The students worked hard and came together, even though some of them attended their morning classes by simply “rolling over to the other side of bed.”

“I don’t really need to say anything inspirational, because you guys are the inspiration,” Carmichael said. He also highlighted the parents, siblings and teachers who helped them all through remote learning and de facto homeschooling.

It was this mature perspective – to see the positive lessons learned in this tumultuous year – which was the quality faculty members said resonated most with them most about this graduating class.

“We will always look back on this class as one that always sees the positive in every situation,” Principal Susie Orsborn told the graduates. “If anyone can navigate this and make something positive out of it, it’s you.”

During the handing of diplomas, every graduate received a white rose, the class flower. The future destinations and goals of every graduate were read, too. Many students were bound for Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, Western Oregon University and Linn-Benton Community College. There was even a Stanford-bound graduate, and one who will go from Albany, Oregon to Albany, New York, as she attends the Albany College of Health and Sciences next year.

The new building constructed at West Albany High, completed this year, was a central venue for the commencement. The graduates walked in a procession from that building to their seats, and it was under the main entryway that families and students gathered for photos once the ceremony wrapped up.  

Graduates expressed gratitude and excitement that they were able to come back to school for a little over a month before the year ended.  

“We didn’t know that we were going to go back to school at all this year,” said Conner Crites, who’s bound for LBCC in the fall. “It was nice to finish up and be able to graduate without masks on.”

Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and the Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or troy.shinn@lee.net. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn. 

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