Classmates encouraged to take chances

Churchill County graduates begin the newest chapter in their lives

Students from the Churchill County High School Class of 2021 toss their caps at the conclusion of Friday’s graduation ceremony at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex.

Students from the Churchill County High School Class of 2021 toss their caps at the conclusion of Friday’s graduation ceremony at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex. Photo by Thomas Ranson.


A Longhorns search and rescue helicopter flying over the Churchill County High School football field set the stage for graduation Friday night with onlookers looking toward a vast sky.

Every year the flight reminds many graduates of unlimited potential, dreams and the challenging work that awaits them once they receive their diplomas — themes three co-valedictorians stressed during the 90-minute ceremony.

This was also the graduating class that showed adaptability and resilience because of the coronavirus pandemic, and how the method of instruction was delivered to them during the last three months of their junior year and throughout the senior year.

Vera Vaz, one of two Honors School valedictorians, stressed two messages in her speech: kindness and the ability to become involved by trying new ventures. She said kindness has unlimited boundaries.

“You never really know what someone is going through, and each person handles challenges differently, so I feel the best thing to do is don’t be judgmental and just be understanding and supportive,” she said. 
“Especially with the way things are changing and the craziness of the world, a small act of kindness can make a huge impact on someone’s life.”

Vaz, though, focused more on her second theme. During high school, Vaz belonged to numerous organizations and activities, but she said anxiety holds others back from exploring new things and meeting new people.

“Whether it be through sports, clubs, volunteering, or school activities, I have made countless friends which I am beyond thankful for,” she said. “Along with meeting new people, community involvement has helped me grow as a person by developing my skills to prepare for college and future jobs as well as taught me a number of lessons which have helped me see things from a different and interesting perspective.”

Furthermore, she encouraged the graduates to become involved with their community, which opens a door of opportunities and surprises.

“I am beyond thankful for everyone who has helped throughout my journey,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without God and my dad watching over me from above and guiding me. Also, thank you to my amazing mom. I don’t know what I would do without her and all of her love and support. Also thank you to all of my family, friends, teachers, and everyone else for all of your help and encouragement throughout the years.”

Vaz told the graduates to be proud of themselves and what they accomplished during the years at CCHS, but she also told them to be excited for their future.

McKay Winder asked his fellow graduates to look back on their accomplishments and learning, and then he looked forward by quoting from “The Light in the Heart” written by author Roy T. Bennet.

“Do not let the memories of your past limit the potential of your future. There are no limits to what you can achieve on your journey through life except in your mind.”

Winder, the second Honors School co-valedictorian, said memories are passageways to the past, but he said it’s important for his fellow graduates to recognize their potential and what the doorway is to their future of excellence and success. He broke down his main points from by breaking down the potential into a word poem: purpose, obliging, thankful, emboldened, noble, thoughtful, industrious, assertive and learned.

As Winder worked his way through his words, he ended with learned, the ability to take advantage “to learn and to learn from all you do. By exemplifying these traits and others, one can magnify their potential and achieve great things.”

With graduation occurring before the 77th anniversary of D-Day, Winder thanked the veterans and active-duty military personnel for their sacrifices and serving their country, and then he mentioned how those before the graduates have given them the ability to explore a new world of opportunities. He concluded his speech by thanking family members and friends as well as his father in heaven.

Winder issued a dare.

“Dare to be who you are and who you want to be,” he said.

Melanie Plasse, the senior class president and Jump Start valedictorian, took the graduates down memory lane. The Jump Start program allows students to receive dual credit from Western Nevada College and CCHS.

“When we were younger, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up,” Plasse said. “For some it may have been a doctor, firefighter, a princess or even a superhero. Now, the time has come where they are asking us again, but this time looking for a serious answer. Well, who really knows?”

Plasse said high school was a place where students made mistakes, took chances, fell in numerous ties and discovered who they are wand what they wanted to be. She said the four years of high school was a step in the long journey of life.

“Here we have had the opportunity to make memories, win state titles, build lasting friendships, and most importantly beat a senior class at lip sync as sophomores,” she said, to the applause of her fellow classmates.

During high school, she said students made mistakes but kept trying, which allowed for growth. Plasse then quoted Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Plasse said graduates have a long future waiting for them, and the opportunity for them to learn and enjoy life awaits them.

“Enjoy each moment as it comes and find joy from those around you,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake and don’t be afraid to live. High school has truly been four memorable years, but it is not what defines who you are. I encourage each and every one of you to continue to discover who you are and what you want to be when you grow up.”

Plasse said graduates must have the courage to take chances and spread kindness wherever they go.
The senior class invited longtime chemistry and science instructor Steve Johnson to address the graduates. He reflected on their times in his classes during the past four years, and said he would be there for them in their times of need. Johnson told of the story of his best friend who died when they were younger, and how he was devastated with the tragedy. He also recalled three other friends from his youth who also died.

Johnson, who was selected as the state’s teacher of the year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and then the 2017 Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award for the high school division, grades 9-12, thanked veterans and the brave men and women in the audience who have or are serving in the military.

The seniors also recognized two families who received honorary diplomas on behalf of students Kendra Beebe and Aaron Leyva, who died before finishing their schooling.


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