A few minutes after smiling for valedictorian group photos last week, Caleb Matthews took a seat in the Philomath High School auditorium to answer a reporter’s questions about his past educational experiences and his future endeavors.
As the conversation started, the sight of the stage took the 18-year-old senior back to his middle school years when theater students would make the walk over with teacher Diane Crocker for a few weeks of practice before performances in front of a live audience.
“This was so far away and so big,” he said, motioning to the stage. “To be sitting here almost past it now … it’s really kind of strange just how quickly time moves.”
Matthews will graduate with the Class of 2021 during a ceremony set to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Clemens Field. With redefined and loosened COVID-19 restrictions, the high school was able to organize this year’s graduation into a single event. There are restrictions in place with each graduate limited to four invited guests. The graduation ceremony will be live-streamed on the school district’s YouTube channel. Based on the most recent list available, the class includes 123 graduates.
Matthews was home-schooled up until the seventh grade, which is when he first attended Philomath schools. The son of Chad and Shelly Matthews, the 18-year-old said he feels like he had a great time at the high school while doing some great work.
“I feel a sense of contentment and a sense of resolution, which is really nice,” he said.
The Class of 2021 will always be connected to a crazy academic year impacted by a worldwide pandemic. Matthews said he experienced upsides and downsides along the way.
“I’m lucky enough to have stable internet and a good computer at home, so for me, that part wasn’t nearly as much of a challenge,” Matthews said. “I am very much social and I did miss interacting with people … so that was pretty difficult as well as opportunities are just harder to find. It’s certainly more difficult to reach people.”
Matthews thrives in the face-to-face environment better than communicating through videoconferencing or email.
“I’m a big fan of whenever I want to get something done, I like to walk into people’s offices and shake hands and say, ‘hey, I’ve got an idea.’ It’s a lot harder to do that through email, especially with new contacts,” he said. “It (distance learning) did allow me to focus more heavily on academics because there wasn’t really a lot else to do. So I think it was definitely a well-blended milkshake of goods and bads.”
In the classroom, Matthews excelled while storing away pleasant experiences that he’ll no doubt recollect in the coming years. Out of his classes, Matthews particularly enjoyed Law Studies with Aaron Schermerhorn and physics with Len Cerny.
“Bar none, the best class I’ve ever taken,” Matthews said about Law Studies. “It was pretty much a discussion-style class where he would give us a court case from sometime in the last 200 years or so … and we would read through evidence and what happened and discuss how we think the law should be applied or in some cases, how the law should be different. And then we’d see what the actual ruling was and how things played out and how we felt about them.”
Schermerhorn maintained the classroom energy really well, Matthews added, in that it didn’t get really heated between people.
‘It was energetic but it was fun, even in modern-day, really heated political topics,” Matthews said. “We were able to just discuss it, and have fun and realize that people mostly agree on things and people aren’t as crazy as we think they are.”
Cerny’s physics class ranks high on Matthews’s list as well.
“He teaches all high schoolers who come through his class pretty decent amounts of quantum mechanics and most of them understand it,” Matthews said. “It doesn’t feel unreasonable to be tested on it and understand the basics. He does a good job of taking really hard things and making them relatively simple and understandable.”
Beyond the classroom, Matthews has really thrived with his hands in countless activities. He credits swimming for contributing to the person he has become through high school. He also has been active in student government as part of the Associated Student Body for three years. He served as its president during his junior year.
But perhaps one of his more interesting contributions to the school is something that will be around after his departure. He programmed Chromebits, stick-sized processing units, that can be managed wirelessly to control content displayed through five televisions at the high school and two at the middle school.
“I think it’s one of my least known and also my proudest achievements because nobody knew how they worked,” Matthews said.
Matthews was approached with a box of the Chromebits and asked to “mess with them and figure out the software and the programming.” For two trimesters, he spent three or four hours a day setting them up to run on the school’s internet.
Matthews’ activities have also taken him to different parts of the country, including Washington, D.C., during his sophomore year. Matthews and classmate Amelia Skinkis were part of Pioneer Connect’s Foundation for Rural Service program.
“Students from every state, met at a conference to discuss technology barriers for rural students and how that comes about and how expensive it can be to run lines out to wherever,” he said. “A lot of that information would eventually be what inspired me to found Charge Forward a couple of years later.”
Charge Forward is a program that helps other students with technology needs, including the distribution of free computers that Matthews and his student team have reconditioned.
Matthews has also spent a lot of time on the Oregon State University campus as a research intern for explainable artificial intelligence, which he says “isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds.” He’s also co-authored three research papers.
“I made some great connections there under professor Margaret Burnett, who’s been a huge stepping stone for me to continue my journey,” Matthews said. “She’s a bit of a legend in the computer science world.”
Matthews had intentions of heading to OSU for his college studies. It was actually Burnett who suggested he consider Stanford.
“Oregon State is a phenomenal school … it was really a tough thing to pass up even after I had been accepted to Stanford,” he said. “I think I spent two or three weeks before I actually made my decision. Oregon State is a lot less expensive than Stanford and it’s closer to Philomath — I love my family and the people here — and giving that up for a piece of time was a difficult decision.”
Matthews will focus on artificial intelligence and computer science while on the Stanford campus, which is nestled in the middle of Silicon Valley.
He said, “Walking around and feeling the vibe of it and the culture and the people that have come before. … I feel like Stanford University is a place where dreamers and doers collide.”
“There are some colleges that focus on dreamership and having big ideas and there are some colleges that focus on doership and accomplishing those things,” he said. “Stanford has a really cool blend where you find a sort of Steve Jobs and a (Steve) Wosniack. One of them goes, ‘I have this great idea about how we can make things better for people’ and the other says, ‘I actually know how to do that.’ That blend is a really important thing.
“Stanford has this really cool ability historically to find dreamers and doers and pair them well together. That was ultimately what sold me on Stanford.”
Matthews is one of 13 valedictorians for the Class of 2021. Others include Andrew Chatfield, Audrey Davis, Isaac Denzer, Justin Enghauser, Atira Fairbanks, Merrie Follett, Annalee Hiebert, Chloe Jurva, Amey McDaniel, Sarah McDaniel, Mikaila Saathoff and Ada Wennstrom.
The Class of 2021 is having a busy week with several activities, including on Thursday with a parade around the school campuses at 10 a.m., and a parade through the community at 7 p.m. Off-campus activities have also been organized for an “all-night party” from 7-11 p.m. Saturday at the rodeo grounds (COVID restrictions dictate how late the party can last) and the senior prom from 7:30-11 p.m. Sunday at the Philomath Scout Lodge.
PHS CLASS OF 2021 Ethan David Abernathy, Lucas Sylvan Ainsworth, Corey Dodge Aja, James David Alexander, Daniel Angel Amezquita, Lydia Arthurs, Yonatan Merino Ayala, Judah Clay Bacho, Jace Tyler Barrett, Zenon Teague Bauer, Chase Johnathan Beardsley, Mackenzie Brooke Beddingfield, Alixandra Mae Bevandich, Matthew Martin Bevandich, Rachel Anne Bartholomeusz, Issiah Chance Blackburn, Cole Elija Blancke, Garrett Stephen Bowers, Aeden James Brewer, Sydney Jade Burton, Bryan Patrick Caples, Henry Allan Jung Carter, Jorden Russell Chambers, Katherine Grace Champion, Andrew James Chatfield, Amelia Ann Cleveland, Kamden Rae Combs, Dara Nicole Coon, Ruth Elise Cropp, Sean William Nicholas Cummings, Noah Robert Curtis, Audrey Ann Davis, Anabella Luca DeMasi, Isaac Obadiah Denzer, Carly Michelle Dowless, Anthony Gene Eck, Kristen Michelle Eddy, Justin Matthew Enghauser, Atira Grace Fairbanks, Nicole Eve Ferguson, Tamra Renee Fiddy, Wyatt Joseph Fields, Merrie Ellen Follett, Kailey Autumn Fredrickson, Sophia Jane Gerding, Otto Jackson Gilbert, Kirstyn Kae Goble, Angus Cyrus Greggs, Josiah Matthew Gunn, Blane Antonio Guzman, Christopher Thomas Hamilton, Matthew Joseph Hamlet-McCuistion, Cody Isabelle Hansen, Kaitlyn Michelle Harris, Grant Everett Hellesto, Adam Salvador Hernandez, Annaless Rose Hiebert, Phaedra Bo Hinds-Cook, Maija Kathryn Hilton, Gypsy Sue Anna Hinman, Tucker James Hopper, George Rolland House IV, Sierra Kim Johnson, Zoee Noelle Johnson, Isaac Daniel Jorgens, Chloe Grace Jurva, Hunter Josef Kaumanns, Jayden Matthew Kelley, Emily Mae King, Neil Wiley King, Levi James Knutson, Connar Anthony Kohn, Omar Antonio Lara, Jack Tomas Loyd, Christopher Michael Ludington, Noel Elaine Lundeen, Michael Edward Lundy, Brady Allen Magers, Kimberly Martinez, Leslie Del Rosio Martinez, Sarah Corinne Mason, Caleb Robert Matthews, Jessica Lee McCaskill, Amey Kristine McDaniel, Casey Ryan McDaniel, Sarah Elaine McDaniel, Megan Louise McGaughy, Elijah Connor McLennan, Braedyn Eve McNeely, Melia Richelle Morton, Austin Harner Murphree, Harlee Anne Oleman, Dillon Luke Olsen, Madelyn Marie Olsen, Ashley Padilla Martinez, Brandy May Paulus, Alivia Rose Pittman, Wade Allen Russell, Mia Grace Rust, Jacob Jackson Rutledge, Mikaila Marie Saathoff, Lily Kathryn Schell, Christian Bryce Schiedler, Taylor Marie Scott, Caleb Benjamin Shaw, Aidan Waddell Siener, Amelia Lee Skinkis, Claire Alyce Skinkis, Matthew Conrad Slater, Nicholas Merrill Stucki, Hailey Patricia Sutton, Gabriel Gordon Crandall Turner, Alexandria Janey Tipsword, Biwa Tomono-Duval, Manuel Alexander Trejo Rivera, Emmit Kai Tutt-Lamberty, Spencer Dean VanOrden, Bryan Isaias Vargas-Juarez, Ian P Weickum, Ada Susanna Wennstrom, Jaden Marcus Williams, Samantha Elizabeth Williams, Matthew Scott Workman.
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