Golden tassels bounced as half of Del Norte High School’s graduating class made a circuit through Mary Peacock Elementary School on Thursday.

Carrying signs with the name of the college they planned on attending, the Class of 2017 exchanged high fives and fist bumps with the classes of 2024 and 2027. The other half of Del Norte High’s graduating class paraded through Bess Maxwell Elementary School.

“I think it’s really neat that the kids can see that they have this goal,” said third-grade teacher Kathy Williams. “If they do this every year, and I’m hoping they make this an annual event, (the kids can think) next year I’m making it to fourth grade or fifth grade. Little kids don’t always see the long term picture.”

The following evening, 180 Warriors donned blue gowns to go with their caps and tassels. They exchanged fist bumps and high fives with favorite teachers and trooped into Mike Whalen Field to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” and the roar of hundreds of parents, grandparents, siblings and friends.

Although it was a time for celebration, salutatorian Savannah Bolinger encouraged her peers to find a passion they can dedicate themselves to in order to effect change. Bolinger noted that several things in the world need to be addressed including the education system, the environment and social injustices.

“I think we should all agree that it will be our duty as adult citizens of the world to dedicate ourselves to fixing those issues that we feel strongly about,” she said. “Care about something bigger than yourself and you’ll see so many positive impacts on your own life as well as others.”

Valedictorian Tayla Chappa took the time to celebrate the resilience of Del Norte’s youth. She noted that many students experience disappointment and heartache, but they adapt.

“They are optimistic, they take action if needed and they hope for a better future,” Chappa said. “There are those who say that nothing good can come from Del Norte County, but I believe the opposite. The class of 2017 is the prime example of the resilient youth that will lead our future.”

As she looked back on her high school career, Ke-Yoh Lara remembered the teachers that made an impact on her life, including English and drama teacher Debbie Scott and Yurok language teacher Barbara McQuillen. But Lara said it was dance that she would miss the most.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at home than when I was on that stage,” she said. “You can push the history in us. You can push the English and the math, the social studies, you can push all that into us, but really at the end of the day if my parents are going to ask me what was your favorite thing about school today? I’d be like getting to act, getting to be with my friends, getting to dance.”

Being in Katie Peña’s dance program was also a highlight for Brianna Lenover, who plans to go to major in kinesiology at College of the Redwoods.

“I basically lived in the studio,” she said. “Dance was my high school. I studied in there, hung out in there, everything.”

As they geared themselves up for their final walk through the halls as students, many of the graduates had advice to impart to Del Norte High’s incoming freshmen. James LeClaire, who’s headed for the Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento, encouraged his younger peers not to slack off during their freshman year.

For Faith Leach, who will be going to College of the Redwoods next year, her advice was simple.

“Be your own person,” she said. “Don’t try and copy everybody else.”

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