Graduation night in Ely

CELEBRATING after commencement exercises were the 2019 graduates of Ely Memorial High School by throwing their graduation caps up in the air.

by Tom Coombe -

Reflection was mixed with humor as Ely’s high school graduating class gathered on stage last Saturday at Washington Auditorium.
Before accepting their diplomas - their last official act as students at Ely Memorial High School - the 32 seniors were given an opportunity to look back and ahead as well as urged to savor the moment.
Todd Hohenstein, a longtime science teacher at the high school who returned to Ely after spending the school year on leave in California, challenged the seniors during the commencement address and asked them to take everything in.
“I remember snapshots of my own graduation,” said Hohenstein. “Make small little mental videos tonight that you can keep for yourself forever. Give yourself that gift.”
High school principal Megan Anderson, who taught many of the seniors when they were in third grade, shared memories of many of the students and looked back to notes they wrote nine years ago, when they talked about their future beyond high school.
Many of those letters were on target, Anderson said, as she noted several who identified interests and college majors nearly a decade ago.
“You’re pretty amazing- have I said that before?” Anderson said to the group. “I’m excited to watch you grow.”
Graduates Charlie Dammann and Madelene Johnson, also the top two-ranking students in the class, spoke on behalf of the group.
They took turns at the microphone, sharing stories from their initial days in high school, stretching back into their elementary and middle-school years, and noting countless moments of their senior year.
Johnson recalled her first day of high school and a rope trick shown by science teacher Bo DeRemee.
“I member thinking at the beginning of the class, thinking to myself I’m never going to make it to senior year,” said Johnson. “Looking back, I feel like I just blinked and now we’re here.”
Johnson said of the group that “from the beginning, we were all a big family.”
That extended even into the “miry murk that was middle school,” said Dammann.
Dammann made the group, as well as many in an audience of more than 600 people, laugh with tales of the senior class trip to Washington, D.C.
The group “waited hours for our local Congressional leaders to show up, and who could forget the endless array of metal detectors,” said Dammann, who also stirred memories of a class member breaking into song on their tour bus, and getting lost in the airport.
Johnson and Dammann also alternated with brief snippets about each graduating senior, identifying some with monikers including “most academic, best hair, class clown and most friendly” and reading off each of their respective plans beyond high school.
The duo turned serious when recognizing their teachers.
“You have watched us grow from ignorant middle-schoolers to somewhat knowledgeable young adults,” Johnson said to the faculty members in attendance. “Words can’t explain how much we appreciate you and all you have done for us.”
Hohenstein linked his family’s recent “family odyssey” in California with the path being taken on by the graduating seniors.
“We decided to move from an area we knew very well to a place where everything would be new and novel,” Hohenstein said of the journey he took with his wife Heather and the couple’s two sons.
The family stayed in a small apartment in San Francisco and Hohenstein worked as a substitute teacher, in part “because the world is a diverse mix of people and cultures and we wanted (our children) to see those differences as something to explore and learn about.”
That, according to Hohenstein, is part of an important determination - asking “why.”
“Keep asking the question of why, it’s a great process,” he told the graduates. “The key is you just can’t ask the question once. What you really need to do is answer that question until you scrape the bedrock of a value that’s at your core.”
Hohenstein added that “some of you will experience a seismic shift in setting,” upon graduation from high school.
“You will all have a different perspective on life the next time school supplies are on sale at Target,” said Hohenstein, who will return to the classroom at the high school next fall.
Four seniors - Dammann, Johnson, Gabi Omerza and Shane Spangler, were named winners of the prestigious Alworth Scholarships, valued at $20,000 each.
They were four-of-seven seniors to carry grade point averages of 3.5 or better. The others were Dana Crenshaw, Lida Dodge and Lucy Stouffer.
The honor students were part of a group that collected over $180,000 in scholarships earlier this month at the school’s awards day. More than 90 awards were distributed.
Diplomas were awarded at the end of Saturday’s ceremony by superintendent Kevin Abrahamson, school board chairman Ray Marsnik and school board member Rochelle Sjoberg.