Elizabeth Morales-Marquez will be among those earning diplomas Saturday at Philomath High School’s graduation ceremony. She plans to attend college at Western Oregon University. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High School’s Class of 2023 graduation ceremony arrives Saturday with 86 students to receive diplomas on a date that will always represent an important lifetime milestone. Some will go to college or trade schools, a few will enter the military and others will go directly into the workforce.

Elizabeth Morales-Marquez is among those with plans to continue her education and in fact, she hopes to become the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree. But before embarking on that journey, she will celebrate the completion of her high school education and the many challenges that she conquered along the way.

“Making my mom proud — that was probably my biggest motivation,” she said. “The most important thing I’ve learned here would be not being afraid of doing anything or taking on a challenge.”

Philomath High School’s graduation ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at Clemens Field. The event is open to all with no tickets required.

Known as Ellie to teachers and friends, moving forward into college has been an important goal.

“It feels like an accomplishment because my mom didn’t go to college and my oldest sister went to college but she didn’t finish and decided to work instead,” said Ellie, who attended Philomath schools through her entire K-12 education. “I want to do something in my life where I would feel accomplished so being a first-generation (college graduate) sort of boosts that motivation.”

Ellie said she had to stay focused to reach her goals.

“I knew that I couldn’t be the same person who just had missing work, so I had to actually do my work and focus on studying and doing well on tests and getting good grades,” she said. “It was really being determined and having that strong mindset that I could do anything.”

Ellie plans to study art and design at Western Oregon University. She received a merit scholarship from the Monmouth school and will participate in its Diversity Scholars program as a recipient of the Diversity Commitment Scholarship.

“They really wanted people from different cultures and backgrounds and that really stuck with me,” she said. “It was also like the environment — it just felt so homely and comfortable and everything like that.”

Ellie attended Western Oregon’s César E. Chávez Leadership Conference for three years.

“It was pretty much for Hispanic students but anyone could attend,” said Ellie, who has Mexican heritage. “At the event, they tell us about what Western does and about some of the classes we could do and what help there is for Hispanic students if they need it from Western or anyone.”

The scholarships and her eligibility for grants should cover the costs of her education.

“I see myself doing either sports photography or fashion photography. I have a passion for both of those things — seeing me in the big leagues taking pictures,” she said with a laugh.

Ellie, who student who is often smiling, said one of the things she was told at a softball awards event last week was how she puts on her “game face” while competing. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Extracurricular activities in athletics and academics have played an important role in her school experience. Ellie played soccer and softball all four years and basketball for three years. In the classroom, she’s been involved with AVID, a program that supports students as they conquer rigorous academic challenges, and has also enjoyed her work with the yearbook staff.

“The main activity I did is yearbook — going to all the events, taking pictures and everything like that,” she said. “That was probably my favorite activity that I did here.”

During her senior year, she served as the yearbook’s co-editor-in-chief.

Juggling classwork and extracurricular activities can be a true challenge with the level of commitment that’s needed.

“Try to finish all of your work during class … or take the time during advisory (period) to finish it,” Ellie said when asked if she had any time management tips.

Many students have a particular teacher that they really connected with during their high school journey. Ellie said several have been important to her education along the way but she did single out one educator that had a significant impact — AVID instructor Jodi Moade.

“She helped a bunch of students but she really helped me try to reach for my dreams and go to college because I wanted to prove to myself that I can reach my goals,” she said.

Ellie shared a story about how Moade motivated students to push themselves.

“I decided to do pre-calc (calculus) and I liked it at first but it was just too much for me so I decided to drop it,” she said. “But it was a really good challenge for me to push myself and try it.”

Beyond Moade, Ellie rattled off the names of several others who have helped along the way — her mother Merced Morales and a number of teachers at the middle school and high school.

As the Class of 2023 moves on, a group of freshmen will begin their high school journey this fall. Ellie was asked what advice she would have for them.

“Join a bunch of activities … because you can make new friends and make new memories,” she said. “And try to make it to some school events because they are really, really fun.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.