Valedictorians said CCHS students endured challenges of pandemic, online learning

Seniors throw their caps or mortarboards in the air at the end of graduation.

Seniors throw their caps or mortarboards in the air at the end of graduation.

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Speakers at Friday night’s Churchill County High School graduation told seniors to look forward to the next chapter in their lives after the Class of 2022 persevered during one of the bleakest times in U.S. history.

More than 250 seniors who assembled on the CCHS football field weathered the coronavirus pandemic and survived online learning beginning in March 2020.

“As I reflected back the past few years, I realized we have faced some very difficult challenges during our time in high school,” said Jump Start Valedictorian Samuel Seong-Young Lee. “The pandemic, learning online, being away from friends, family and other loved ones and missing out on part of our high school experience. Throughout all this, we managed to make the best out of the situation in a time that was very difficult for many of us.”

Lee rose to the top in the Jump Start program which allows high school juniors and seniors to attend Western Nevada College where they earn an associate’s degree.

“Having this graduation ceremony in person is awesome,” Lee said.

As the students assembled in the auxiliary gym before the procession to the football field, Lee said it was amazing to see how many seniors are in the class.

“It’s good to have this togetherness,” he said.

Lee’s family moved to Fallon in 2019 after his mother accepted a position at the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe health clinic. He said Fallon provided a nice change of scenery from their previous home in North Carolina.

Lee said he plans to go on a two-year mission to Sydney, Australia, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and once he completes it, he plans to enroll at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

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Family members and friends holding balloons waited for their graduates.

When addressing his fellow graduates, he said the seniors managed to complete their studies despite what seemed like a difficult, tedious and uncomfortable time.

“Life is continually going to throw challenges at you and beat you up over and over,” Lee said, adding the graduates will continue to grow.

Kyla Trotter finished as the Honors School valedictorian. She completed eight Advanced Placement classes during her four years at CCHS. She plans to attend the University of Nevada, Reno where her older sister finished her second year.

“To my classmates, I think we might have had one of the most eventful high school experiences in history,” Trotter said, referring to COVID-19 and online learning. “Our world has been rocked with uncertainty and diverseness, but we learned to become adaptable, something I think will benefit us all greatly as we leave this campus and explore ‘the real world.’”

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The Minor Details Choir sings the national anthem.


During the restrictions placed on education during the pandemic, Trotter said she pushed herself as much as she could and became with other ventures outside of school that dealt with her interests. She plans to major in computer science and engineering.

For part of her graduation address, Trotter spoke about robots.

“During my journey into computer science and technology, I’ve found interest in a field that is in the process of new discovery and innovation almost every day: the field of artificial intelligence and robotics,” she said. “Regardless of your feelings toward AI and its portrayal in sci-fi movies, that futuristic world may not be so far into the future.”

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Courtney LeBlanc, left, and Ridgely Elmer sport sunglasses.


Trotter also talked about creativity and how it will affect her classmates.

“You may have found school to either foster or stifle your creativity, but as we move into the next chapter of our lives characterized by different expectations I would advise us to keep this in mind,” she said. “We should not waste this trait we have been gifted. Creativity drives innovation and problem solving, and I believe we can all think of at least a few problems in our world that we would like to solve.”

Trotter said her classmates may find school either fostered or stifled their creativity, but she had a thought for the seniors. They should not waste the trait on creativeness which they have been gifted.

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The Churchill County Junior ROTC color guard prepares to present the U.S. for the national anthem. From left are Humphrey Arata, Boston Rogers, Hannah Benjamin and Alec Lecker.


“Creativity drives innovation and problem solving, and I believe we can all think of at least a few problems in our world that we would like to solve,” she added.

Prior to the valedictorians taking the stage, Principal Tom Spencer offered some advice by using a little humor. He first thanked the students and community for welcoming his family to Fallon after he was hired during the summer. He noted the respectfulness his family received.
Spencer said a fortune cookie message inspired him with his wishes, and he wanted to share the experience by giving each student a cookie. His messages included “Don’t wear tennis shoes to an interview,” “The fortune you seek is in another fortune cookie,” and “I am worth a fortune.”

“I am so proud of you,” he said. “Please remember how you got here, how you felt tonight.”
Spencer said graduates will find a special message to guide and lead them to success. If they need advice, he said they should call someone they know.

“They have the answer you seek,” he said.

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Nathan Lords walks with Darian Borough, right, during the processional.


Art teacher Jaime Shafer has taught for 20 years, five at CCHS. She inspired the community prior to COVID-19 with her “Why You Matter” program. She told graduates they are preparing to embark on a big change in their lives.

Then she dropped a line of wisdom on the students from the television character Ted Lasso:
“Hey, takin' on a challenge is a lot like ridin' a horse. If you're comfortable while you're doin' it, you're probably doin' it wrong.”

Shafer related the similarity that affected her. When she moved to Fallon, she said the agriculture and green fields reminded her of the community in which she lived as a child.
She also had words of advice. Shafer said she spent the first 30 years of her life trying to make people happy, but she didn’t share the same feelings. She made changes in her life, attended graduate school earning a master’s degree and eventually returning to teaching, which she liked.

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CCHS seniors listen to Jaime Shafter, a CCHS art teacher who gave the commencement address.


“I enjoyed coming to work,” she said.

Also during the ceremony, the seniors recognized Kendrik Julianne Wright, a classmate and friend during elementary school. Her parents received an honor diploma for their daughter. The 8-year-old Kendrik died in 2012 from diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a rare children's cancer.

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Seniors begin to move their tassels to the left side at the end of graduation.


The Junior ROTC cadets presented the colors, and the Minor Details sung the national anthem.


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