Sophie Gerding, Greg Gerding
Sophie Gerding accepts her PHS diploma from her grandfather and School Board member Greg Gerding during Saturday's graduation ceremony. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The sights and sounds of graduation puts smiles on faces and causes eyes to well up with tears. Philomath High School’s Class of 2021 commencement ceremony on Saturday at Clemens Field definitely had its share of those moments.

A well-prepared, high-energy valedictorian speech by Ada Wennstrom brought a lot of smiles. The event also led to some sets of watery eyes, such as when school board member Greg Gerding presented a diploma to his granddaughter, Sophie Gerding.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” Gerding said. “Sophie brought so much into our lives ever since she was a little girl and then to see her go all the way through high school and to graduate, it’s a very emotional moment.”


Sophie Gerding, who many may recall won the homecoming queen title when she was a sophomore in 2018-19, was born with a rare disorder called Williams syndrome.

“The school has totally embraced her, her friends, her classmates, it’s simply incredible,” said Greg Gerding, who also presented diplomas to grandchildren Aaveri Gerding in 2019 and Dylann Gerding in 2020.

The Class of 2021 featured 123 graduates of Philomath High School and Philomath Academy. Isaac Denzer, one of 13 valedictorians, said it’s been a crazy ride to the end.

“I definitely doubted that we would have a full in-person graduation,” Denzer said. “This was a nice surprise; it was really good to be back in person for the last couple of months. I didn’t think that was going to happen either … there have been a lot of ups and downs.”

The graduation, which started at 11 a.m., and lasted for about 1 hour, 10 minutes, did not require anyone to wear masks as an outside event. A few masks could be seen here and there but the high majority enjoyed the relaxed environment.

Said Denzer, “I’ve never seen so many people with no masks.”

After turning their tassels, the graduates do the traditional mortarboard toss into the air to end Saturday’s event. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Through the first seven months of the 2020-21 academic year, high schoolers were forced to learn from home while looking at a screen.

“It was definitely a struggle; I didn’t like the online classes,” Denzer said. “I had like five hours a day of all of my classes and then had another four hours of homework, so I ended up spending most of my days inside on my computer. I like being outside, so I didn’t do well.”

Elli Follett, who was also among those wearing the valedictorian’s gold honor cord with the gown, had a similar experience.

“It was a hard, hard time being on your computer all year long,” she said. “We just got back like two months ago, too. … Seeing faces for the first time in a year, it’s crazy.”

Philomath High announced on May 28 that there would only be one ceremony, instead of the two that had been planned as part of COVID-19 restrictions. Last year’s graduation ceremony had to be split up.

“It means a lot — I don’t want to be separated from my friends,” Follett said. “I want to see everyone who accomplished what I accomplished and succeed.”

Susan Halliday participated in a graduation ceremony for the first time as a school superintendent.

“This is the last group of sixth graders I had when I was at Philomath Middle School,” Halliday said. “I’ve watched them grow up in a lot of ways. This is really touching to be able to have this be a first for me in the superintendent’s role to see them walk through and graduate.”

Ruth Cropp and her mom, Anna Cropp, poses for a photo while on stage during diploma presentations. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Katherine Champion opened the event by singing the National Anthem. Chloe Jurva, senior class president, followed with a short welcome. Lucas Ainsworth and Daniel Amezquita each provided a senior speech.

The valedictorians were recognized on stage and Wennstrom followed with her upbeat message. Principals Mike Bussard of the high school and Dan Johnson of Philomath Academy gave short messages and Halliday did the official “presentation of the Class of 2021.”

Following the distribution of diplomas, Associated Student Body President Lily Schell and Jurva led the group through the turning of tassels. The process had been completed and mortarboards flew into the air.

Ada Wennstrom gives the valedictorian speech. She was one of 13 valedictorians in the Class of 2021. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

School Board members traditionally take part in the handing out of diplomas. Gerding, Shelley Niemann and Jim Kildea participated in their final graduation as outgoing members.

“These have been tough times with different things during these school years,” Gerding said. “There’s always challenges but where there’s challenges, then there’s opportunities. This past year and a half, I really feel for the students but it really came together.”

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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