From left, Taylor Roe, Ashlynn Barron, Cole Matthews and K Bacho walk into Clemens Field to begin Saturday's graduation ceremony. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In the few seconds while on stage receiving a diploma, most graduates pause for a photo in the general direction of their family members. A handful get a little animated with cutesy poses, a couple react with a fist pump or raising their arms in the air and a few others get on and off the stage in quick order without breaking stride.

Then there are those special moments when school district parents take advantage of the opportunity to present a diploma to their own son or daughter. The facial expressions that illustrate pride and love followed by a heartfelt hug.

But whatever the moment brings, it’s one of those important milestones in life that stays with each one of them.

The 77 graduates that make up Philomath High School’s Class of 2022 celebrated the experience on Saturday in a ceremony at Clemens Field. Could students put into words what the day means to them?

Blake Niemann, seen here giving a valedictorian speech, received the Outstanding Student Award. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“It’s just a culmination of everything I’ve been through in my high school career,” said Blake Niemann, who won several awards during the ceremony, including Outstanding Senior. “All the memories, all the moments, the events that we’ve had. It’s just coming together and is especially special after all that this class has been through over the past few years.”

Briah Benson had similar comments.

“All of the accomplishments I’ve made in these past four years are all balled up into one day, especially with getting valedictorian,” Benson said. “I think it’s a really special day.”

Madalyn Gerig called the experience a surreal feeling.

“It is a celebration of what I’ve accomplished so far in my life, the past 12 years, and I’m really excited to celebrate with my friends and family who have helped me get to where I am today,” Gerig said.

Caleb Jensen celebrates in the moment after receiving his diploma. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Mark Grimmer’s thoughts revolved around the class as a whole.

“This is a very special day not only for me but for everyone who’s graduating Philomath,” Grimmer said. “It’s surreal being here after all of the difficulties we’ve come through and it’s just amazing that everyone was able to accomplish this.”

Jazz Choi reacts to receiving her diploma. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Class of 2022’s high school years were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that led to closing down campus and transitioning learning to home environments. The situation created an unprecedented type of challenge.

“COVID and being online was challenging and there was definitely some lack of motivation,” Gerig said. “That was probably the biggest thing but still knowing what I’m working for and keeping the good grades up.”

Niemann said he just adjusted on the fly as the pandemic wore on and kept students off campus.

“That was difficult, especially with how easy it was to be tempted to not do the schoolwork,” he said. “But staying persistent in that and making sure I was on top of things and didn’t fall behind was probably the biggest challenge.”

Grimmer said COVID put a real damper on things but “being able to fight through that and persevere even though we were hit so hard, and then to keep it up, really speaks for itself.”

Philomath Academy celebrates with milestone graduation ceremony

Philomath Academy Principal Dan Johnson is almost never at a loss for words. But during a short talk following Friday night’s first-ever graduation ceremony, the man had trouble expressing how important the evening had been for the program that he’s worked so hard to establish and for the 20 graduates who beat the odds to…

With the Clemens Field grandstands packed, Kyla Berger got the ceremony started with the singing of the National Anthem. Tony Matta, vice principal, and Dave Dunham, teacher and student government adviser, shared comments before valedictorian speeches by Niemann and Emery Boutilier. Joining them as valedictorians in the class are K Bacho, Benson, Gerig, Grimmer, Reese Grube, Cole Matthews and Blaise Pindell.

Kyron Amerling, who survived a near-fatal crash on a quad at age 12 and kept fighting to earn his diploma, provided the senior speech.

Tyler Tally was one of 77 seniors to receive diplomas on Saturday. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Several awards were then presented with recipients including Niemann (Outstanding Senior, Outstanding in Enthusiasm, Sportsmanship), Ella Kelly (Sportsmanship), Pindell (Outstanding Male Athlete), Sage Kramer (Outstanding Female Athlete, Outstanding in Activities), Berger (Exceptional Grit), Wade Krohn (Exceptional Grit), Grube (Outstanding in Citizenship) and Dylan Bell (Outstanding in Leadership).

The next 34 minutes featured each student accepting their diplomas with the assistance of School Board members.

The ceremony ended with student body president, Bell, and senior class president, Niemann, leading classmates through the turning of the tassels. Mortarboards then flew into the air and families came down out of the grandstands to celebrate and take photographs.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

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.