CLASS OF 2023: McNary’s most spirited senior came back from Covid on a mission

This article is part of a series of profiles of graduating seniors in Salem high schools. Read the full series here.

Anna Sponable knew her school’s football games needed one thing: confetti.

There was just one problem — the McNary High School senior needed buy-in from Principal Erik Jespersen, who had banned confetti because of the mess it made.

Sponable told Jespersen she would personally clean the stands after every football game if he’d reconsider. They sealed the deal with a pinky promise, and true to her word, Sponable spent the fall picking up bottles and cans and sweeping up confetti.

“Usually at least one or two people would end up helping me, so it was fun. I met a lot of new people that way,” Sponable said.

It’s the sort of leadership mixed with spirit that Sponable has become known for at McNary. She graduated as one of the school’s valedictorians while taking a challenging load of Advanced Placement classes, threw javelin on the varsity track team, swam, played viola in McNary’s orchestra and sang in the choir.

“My goal for high school is to be an encourager, and to be the person that people can look up to,” Sponable said.

Her classmates voted her the senior with the most school spirit, and her teachers said she’s played a pivotal role in McNary’s orchestra and in advanced classes, modeling leadership for other students.

“She’s just an incredible leader in our building with her positive spirit and her ability to bring people together,” Jespersen said.

Sponable came into high school intending to be a straight A student, an accomplishment she wanted for college admissions. It was so important to her that when classes shut down for Covid and students automatically earned passing grades, she asked her teachers for letters saying she would have gotten an A in their class.

“I didn’t use them all but I thought it was hilarious,” she said, reflecting back on her freshman self.

But the pandemic challenged Sponable too. She struggled feeling isolated as online school dragged on, so she moved with her aunt and uncle in Montana so she could attend school in-person her sophomore year

As a junior, she returned to McNary and resolved to make the most of high school in her remaining time, attending every football game, going all-out for spirit weeks and modeling school spirit.

“I just love having fun and screaming my heart out and having school pride which lots of people don’t and I think it’s sad because like school pride’s the part of school that makes it fun,” she said.

Sponable started music in elementary school, choosing a viola and practicing both at school and church.

“I didn’t like how scratchy the violin was, and cellos were too big, and basses were way too big. And the viola just sounded way better and had a fuller tone,” she said.

She led the rebuilding of Salem Evangelical Church’s youth music following the pandemic shutdown. 

“I came back from Montana and there wasn’t a worship team. I was like, I need music in church. I need to be able to praise Jesus. So I decided to lead the worship team and I kind of picked it up from the ground,” she said. She recruited high school musicians, some of whom were new to their instruments, and mentored the group until it became a self-sufficient band playing at youth services.

At McNary, Sponable created an orchestra council to raise awareness and funds for the ensemble. Their inaugural effort was a vote to ice cream sundae a teacher. Students could pay to vote, and the winning teacher would have ice cream and toppings piled on their head during a school assembly.

Jespersen, the principal, won the vote, and the orchestra students had eight minutes at the assembly to cover him in ice cream. Sponable said the supplies ended up costing about as much as they made in ticket sales, so the fundraiser only raised about $10.

“It didn’t really work, but it was still really fun. I don’t know if I’d do it again because it was so hard to clean up. We brought the tarp into the girls locker room and had to rinse it off with a hose. It took hours,” she said.

“Even after the shower. I still found sprinkles in my ear,” Jespersen added.

She also performed a solo as a senior in McNary’s choir, singing “Thank God I Do” by Lauren Daigle.

“It was the most beautiful song I’d heard a student sing in I don’t know how long,” Jespersen said.

In the fall, Sponable plans to attend Corban University, studying business management. She hopes to get involved in a faith-based nonprofit, continuing her work as a leader that she’s honed through her high school activities.

“That’s one thing I’m grateful for Covid – it kind of showed me how much I missed and how much I wanted to make high school count,” she said.

Correction: This article was updated to correct Anna Sponable’s first name. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.