Turning of the tassels at the end of the Philomath High School graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Philomath High School graduates said they’ll miss the camaraderie and support of their close-knit community.

“It’s a small town and you really feel connected to the people around you,” Giovanni Abdelsayed said while seniors gathered in the high school’s library Saturday morning before graduation.

The Class of 2023 included 86 graduates, and teens received their diplomas in front of grandstands packed with family and friends at Clemens Field.

Like many seniors, Abdelsayed was a little sad about moving on, but also proud and excited about his next chapter. He played offensive line for the Warriors football team, and he’ll walk-on at Oregon State University, where he’ll study architectural engineering.

Seth Arthurs, of Wren, said he’ll miss his friends. What he’ll remember most is winning a state championship in soccer as a junior and the bonds teammates shared. “We were all like brothers,” he added.

Arthurs, also a PHS athlete in cross-country and track, is enrolled at Bushnell University in Eugene, where he’ll major in kinesiology and play soccer.

“It’s going to be weird making new friends, not knowing anyone when we move,” Arthurs said.

Graduates gather in the library before the start of the Philomath High School graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Many graduates decorated their mortarboards with messages, photos or other designs.

Adrianna Hunter had her college destination written large in maroon and gold — ASU for Arizona State University, where she’ll study family sciences and human development and teaching.

Hunter, who played softball for the Warriors, moved from Portland to Philomath in sixth grade.

“I’d never heard of it before. It was so tiny. But I really liked it. It’s such a good community. … I made so many friends,” Hunter said.

Marliese Navarrete-Refugio delivers the welcome at the Philomath Highr School graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Ingrid Hellesto said she loved participating in so many activities at PHS, including jazz band, theater and three sports. She was part of two state title track and field squads, and will attend Azusa Pacific University in California, where she’ll run cross-country and track and study wildlife biology.

Hellesto is still involved in extracurriculars for a bit, as she’s in the school’s production of “Mary Poppins.” Said Hellesto, “We perform next week.”

She and other seniors said they believed PHS staff members cared a lot about student success, even for those not destined for college.

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As seniors walked to the football field for graduation ceremonies, social studies teacher Geoff Lake high-fived or dapped every teen he could while offering encouragement.

“This is the best part, it’s being able to watch them fly away and see what happens to them next. Hopefully we’ve set them up to become good humans,” Lake said.

Graduation speakers talked about the challenges the pandemic imposed on the Class of 2023, who were freshmen when Oregon mostly shut down in March 2020.

Mortar boards fly at the end of the Philomath High School graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Principal Mark Henderson said he believed that good things come out of hard times, and seniors emerged stronger and better prepared to take on life after high school.

Dristi Patel, one of six valedictorians for the Class of 2023, told the crowd that strength lies in the ability to adapt and persevere in the face of adversity.

“We can’t control every twist and turn, but we can control how we respond,” said Patel, who will study computer engineering at OSU.

ASB Co-President Brooke Moade delivers the student speech at the Philomath High School graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Brooke Moade, co-student body president, said this was the first completely normal high school year for seniors. She’s enrolled at Western Oregon University and wants to be a teacher, just like her mom, Jodi Moade, a PHS math teacher.

“Grateful doesn’t even begin to cover what I feel for this place,” Brooke Moade said.

“The Class of 2023 will always carry a piece of Philomath in our hearts,” she added. “Once a Warrior, always a Warrior.”

Kyle Odegard, who graduated from Lebanon High School and earned a degree from Portland State University, has been covering covering news as a reporter and editor in Oregon for a quarter of a century.