Class of 2024: CCHS grads, teacher show real chemistry

Seniors throw their caps into the air at the Churchill County High School commencement exercise.

Seniors throw their caps into the air at the Churchill County High School commencement exercise.
Photo by Steve Ranson.

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More than 200 Churchill County High School seniors wearing their green or white caps and gowns paraded across the football field’s grass for the last time before it’s replaced with artificial turf this summer.

The Class of 2024 said goodbye at the Ed Arciniega Athletic Complex on May 24.

Pilots from the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center conducted a flyover in two F-18 Super Hornets as the Naval Junior ROTC presented the colors and the school’s vocal ensemble, Minor Details, sang the national anthem.

The ceremony was not without some laughter going back to the first day of the 2023-24 school year.

Steve Johnson's advanced placement chemistry class conducted an experiment that caused a 50-foot gas balloon to blow into a transformer and knock out the power for the entire school and parts of Fallon.

On the last day of school the memorable incident was mentioned by Principal Tim Spencer, valedictorian Camryn Hook and keynote speaker Johnson himself during the graduation ceremony.

“Where else can you go duck hunting before school starts?” Spencer asked. “Where else do you do a Facebook post asking for roadkill? Who else gets a flyover? No one but Fallon. We even had a teacher and students nearly take out the power grid.”

During the ending of his speech inspired by Dr. Seuss, Spencer asked the graduates to yell out the places they were headed after graduation as he recited a short rewrite of “Oh, the places you’ll go.”

“CCHS graduates … you’re off to great places. Today is your day,” Spencer said. “Your mountain is waiting so get on your way. Oh, the places you’ll go!”

Calling the last four years a “memorable adventure,” Hook addressed her fellow graduates.

“We have endured COVID, experimental schedules, lockdowns … but we have also experienced amazing athletic and academic victories, formed new friendships, learned many lessons and grown into the wonderous people we are today.

“As we move forward, I pray we all pursue our dreams, never give up, be determined to make a difference and do our best in all that we do. I encourage us all to do hard things and push through the pressure, for it’s the pressure that makes diamonds. May we use what we have learned to inspire and impact others and shape a brighter future.”

Hally Wagner, left, and Andrea Lattin walk down the aisle to their chairs.
Steve Ranson/LVN

In addition to the valedictorian honors, Hook is also one of the year’s top Jump Start students. Through the program, she graduated summa cum laude with an Associate of Science degree from Western Nevada College along with earning a high school diploma.

“I’m really excited,” Hook said. “I worked really hard for this the last four years and it has not been easy, but it was worth it.”

Hook said she loved the two required years plus one additional year, “because I wanted to,” that she spent in Johnson’s chemistry classes. “Mr. Johnson made it extremely worth it,” she said.

Hook will be on a premedical track at the University of Nevada, Reno to become an anesthesiologist.

While introducing the keynote speaker, senior Samuel Lords said he spoke for many of the graduates when he called Johnson “one of the coolest and smartest people I know … kind and respectful and very fun to be around … and a phenomenal teacher.”

Johnson, the 2017 Veterans of Foreign Wars Nevada State and National Teacher of the Year, has also earned the Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching. The CCHS science department chair and chemistry instructor approached the podium to loud cheers from the crowd.

Is his speech, Johnson shared the story behind one of his favorite poems, “A Builder or a Wrecker,” and asked the graduates to be builders.

“Please know that each day of your life you will influence the people around you,” Johnson said. “You can be a builder! How? Genuinely love and care about people. Focus on the positives and the potential that can blossom into greatness in others. Tell the people that you share your days with how you feel about them. Love is very powerful!

“I know that you guys will rock the world because you have so much to offer. Chase your dreams. Give life all that you have. See the good and the potential in those around you.

“Class of 2024, I love you guys! I will always be your number one fan. I know what you are capable of because I have watched you accomplish. Class of 2024, be builders, and go and change the world!”

After the ceremony, graduates gathered with friends and family on the green, sharing memories, advice and future plans.

CCHS Salutatorian Alicia Sofia Basurto-Fernandez also graduated from the Jump Start program with an Associate of Arts degree. She said her favorite memories of high school have been in creating the legacy she wants to leave behind.

“I'm painting a mural. I was soccer captain,” she said. “I feel like I taught all of those girls a whole bunch of stuff. I was senior class president, so I left the council with a lot of knowledge and leadership skills.”

Basurto-Fernandez is headed to UNR to study political science as a prelude to earning a law degree.

Kiley Wallace said she particularly enjoyed taking anatomy and physiology classes with Holly O’Toole-Parker, but she said her favorite high school memory is “winning the 3A softball state championship with my community behind me.”

She will also attend UNR, working toward a bachelor’s degree in public health to become a physician’s assistant.

Outgoing student body President Brody Allyn said he learned his secret to success through his dedication to long distance running.

“It’s hard for people to think about it, but it’s just ‘don’t quit,’” he said “Keep pushing and keep striving and, whatever you do, don’t quit. Because usually (success is) right around the corner.”

Allyn will major in aerospace engineering at the University of Arizona on his way to joining the Air National Guard and becoming a commercial pilot.

Frederico Galeno said that he enjoyed economics class and wants to go directly into the workforce in a job that requires dedication and hard physical labor.

Sadie Garcia will attend Truckee Meadows Community College. She plans to help people in the hospital as a radiologist.

Johary Lozano will attend the UNR teaching program and eventually hopes to be a high school or middle school mathematics instructor.

Isaiah Gapith said he will be joining the U.S. Navy and he enjoyed Laurel Topken’s English 101 class.

Darren Dewey enjoyed his cell biology class and wants to become an emergency medical technician.

Nateya Wiggins, who enjoyed playing the cello in the CCHS orchestra, said she is postponing college and taking a gap year to decide what she would like to do next.


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