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Plains graduates class of 2024

It took 13 years of studying, reading, writing, figuring, and testing, but as of Sunday, they are free of high school, although for most of the graduates, the grind of learning continues, and it was a special graduation for a student who missed his time on the stage 52 years ago.

Plains High School counselor Tyrel Allen presented Patrick Cleveland with the diploma he should have received in 1972. Cleveland needed only three credits and was only months short of graduation when he quit and enlisted in the Navy to do his part in the Vietnam War.

"He was told to report on his experiences and when he came home from the war he would receive the credit he needed to get a Plains diploma. Unfortunately, nothing was in writing so upon his return he was not able to receive the diploma he wanted," said Allen before handing the 70-year-old Cleveland his diploma.

"I was honored. That was one of the things on my bucket list," said Cleveland, who was deployed aboard the USS Cleveland off the coast of Da Nang, where the airman guided helicopters on and off the ship's landing pad. Cleveland joined the Navy because he knew he'd be drafted and didn't want to go into the Army. He ended up doing two 10-month tours in Vietnam. Dr. Kathleen Walsh, the Plains School superintendent, recently got the paperwork done to help Cleveland achieve his goal.

"I didn't really regret getting the degree back then because I learned more in the service and I was doing something that was good for the United States and it was my duty, but I'm glad I got it," said Cleveland, who was nearly in tears when he told the 2024 graduates, "Follow your dreams because dreams do come true."

The Plains High School gymnasium was packed on Sunday with nearly 500 people for the hour-long Class of 2024 graduation ceremony being presided by Walsh, Allen, Principal Ryon Noland, Mayor Joel Banham, guest speaker Jaron Laws, and school board member Lana Dicken, who handed out the diplomas.

Twenty-four students became the latest Plains High School graduates with senior Abigail Wessley kicking off the ceremony by singing the "Star-Spangled Banner," followed by classmate Peyton Wasson, the salutatorian. Because the graduation fell on Memorial Day weekend, Horse Plains VFW Post 3596 conducted a "Missing Man Table" during the ceremony. "The Missing Man Table is reserved to honor those who are still missing," said Heather Allen, the post's quartermaster. In addition, the post color guard consisting of Ron Kilbury, Randy Evans and Noah Hathorne presented the colors.

Valedictorian Emory Ercanbrack said she's been thinking about graduation with mixed emotions, including happy and overjoyed for being done. "However, deep down I realized that this whole graduation thing is also tinged with a bit of sadness, at least for me," said Ercanbrack, who added that she'll miss everyone - fellow students, teachers and staff. "Being a Horseman and Trotter to me means being family because after coming to school for over four years and seeing each other's and teacher's faces every single day, don't you think that question deserved to be a little bit more than interesting. The answer to that is yes. In my opinion, we Horseman and Trotters and Class of 2024 are family," she said.

The graduates also included: Devin Barnes, Teirainy Bellinger, Drew Carey, Jaelyn Carr, Zander Czifro, Zephaniah Dines, Sam Feliksa, Amy Hill, Nick Hill, Alex Horodyski, Kaedin Jurek, Rilee Key, Anaya Loberg, Joe Martin, Gabe Rasmussen, Lola-Grace Rodriquez, Brandt Snead, Will Tatum, Brenden Vanderwall, Aden West, and Marissa Young. Hallie Corbin graduated in February and enlisted in the Army.

The commencement guest speaker was Jaron Laws, a former Plains Elementary School teacher and a Thompson Falls graduate. Laws wanted to get revenge on those graduating because of the "baptism by fire" they gave him during his first year teaching sixth grade. He added that although the antics they played on him drove him to therapy, they helped shape him to the person he is today. He talked of a few trying moments by the class and discovered teaching was not easy. "The diploma you'll be handed before you walk off the stage won't guarantee you an easy path to your dreams.

Certainly, it's an excellent starting point and you should be proud of yourself," said Laws, but he went on to advise them to accept the hard, work hard, handle hard, do hard, be willing to have hard conversations, and choose your hard. "No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you've been through, you can handle hard things," he said.

Walsh told the students that she appreciated that they helped make her first year at Plains School a wonderful experience. She said that it was a special day to celebrate success, achievement and the graduates, who had reached an important milestone in their lives. "As you go on to some exciting adventures," she said, "remember Plains will always be your home and once a Horsemen and Trotter, always a Horsemen and Trotter."

The school administration also honored another Horseman of the past for his continuing service to the school and to the community with the Unsung Hero Award. "On this special day of celebration, I'd like for us to take a moment to celebrate an unsung hero who walks among us every day being of service and asking nothing in return," said Walsh, pointing out that Randy Garrison is a "model of service and shows our young people how important it is to be part of a community and do what needs to be done to accomplish things," she said. Walsh said it was the first time the school had done a belated diploma for serviceman and an Unsung Hero Award.

Six of the students plan to attend a four-year college, 10 will go to a two-year institution, and one plans to attend a one-year school. Ten of the students have received scholarships totaling $118,894 with Ercanbrack alone receiving $72,828 from a dozen benefactors.


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