CGHS graduates celebrate overcoming obstacles

With June clouds above and rain coming down, the 2022 Cottage Grove High School (CGHS) senior class took to the football field to graduate from being students to alumni. In all, 144 students walked to receive their diplomas on June 11.

The ceremony opened with the national anthem performed by senior Ashley Walter, then moved into a welcome when principal Kevin Herington got on stage to greet the packed Herald White Stadium bleachers.

“In many ways, you were my first class at CGHS. After all, you are the first class that we started the year off with in the building and finished the year in the building since I’ve been the principal,” Herington said to the 2022 class. Herington started as principal at Cottage Grove High School in fall of 2019.

One of the valedictorians, Kajsa Merz, took the stage and expressed her gratitude for the work that Herington has put in during the last several years.

“You have done so much for this school and our class. We can see the hard work you put into your job. The effort you make to know every single one of your students is unmatched by any of the principals in my four years here. I want you to know we see it and truly appreciate it,” Merz said. 

The other three valedictorians were Hannah Mathis, Callie March, and Walker McCauley. 

“I’d like to dedicate my speech to my father who passed away four years ago,” said McCaualey. “His passing is what led me to Cottage Grove. Even though this loss was the most tragic event in my life, it was also the beginning of a new chapter, a chapter I’m so thankful for.”

McCaualey’s father was in the military and the family moved around a lot, forcing him to make new friends and learn new places often. Having lived in Florida, he would be on the move again after his father’s passing.

“I couldn’t understand why it had to happen. Our family packed up and moved to Cottage Grove. I was angry at the time, wondering why we had to move here,” McCaualey continued.  “But little did I know it would be one of the best places I ever lived. Without that tragic event, I wouldn’t have had the chance to move to Cottage Grove and meet all of you.

“The trials of our lives, of all kinds, produces the character qualities that we should want to possess. Pain, loss, difficulties, and grief all have the potential to paralyze us or challenge us to develop empathy, compassion, grit, strength, and wisdom,” McCaualey concluded.

Following the valedictorian speeches, Salutatorian Halle DeGarlais took the platform. Sylas Williams was also a Salutatorian.

“We’ve had a high school experience that could have never been predicted. The ‘what ifs’ of truly getting a senior year was haunting in the beginning. But even with all the challenges we faced, we didn’t let it stop us from making it here today,” said DeGarlais.

The 2022 class had many ups and downs to face. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, school was closed down part of their sophomore year. Students also adjusted by doing online school and hybrid versions of in-person and online classes into their junior year.

“The resilience we showed, the determination to finish what we started against all odds, is what makes us the class to be reckoned with,” DeGarlais stated.

To round out the afternoon was Associated Student Body president Dazjah Tinsley, who said, “We’ve learned to adapt, to change, and to grow. We’ve learned how to use the quadratic formula, and also how to stand up for ourselves and be completely, authentically who we are. For that we owe CGHS a huge thank you.”


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