The West Salem High School Class of 2019 celebrates during graduation on June 6, 2019. (Courtesy/Salem-Keizer School District)
This week, about 2,750 Salem-Keizer students donned caps and gowns and walked across the stage after earning a diploma or GED.
The Class of 2019 has collectively earned more than $33.5 million in college scholarships to date, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said.
Graduates include teen parents, licensed cosmetologists, at least one cancer researcher and students attending colleges and universities from Chemeketa to Yale.
About 200 have earned a Seal of Biliteracy, a state program recognizing students who are proficient in reading, writing, speaking and understanding another language in addition to English. Most of the district's graduates qualified in Spanish, but the list includes French, German and other languages.
More students will earn a seal after International Baccalaureate exam results are released over the summer, Govus said.
West Salem, McKay and Roberts high schools held ceremonies June 5. McNary graduation was at 2 p.m. June 7.
North Salem, South Salem and Sprague will hold ceremonies at 7 p.m. Friday
Salem Reporter has written about outstanding graduates from each local high school over the past two weeks. We've gathered those below with short excerpts to give a sense of what this year's class looks like.
KJ Kovac lost both his parents to heart attacks as a sophomore and missed nearly a year of high school classes.
His parents always talked about the importance of his education, so Kovac buckled down as a senior to complete two years of high school credits in one, taking 11 classes in the fall.
His hope is to become a firefighter so he can earn money to send to his relatives on the Chuuk Islands.
Sam Hoskins began painting in middle school and learned to work with oils thanks to a mentorship through the Salem Art Association. At Blanchet Catholic School, he's been able to spend much of his time in the studio, working on a portfolio.
After a summer class in Florence, Italy last year, he was accepted into a small art school there where he'll hone his skills through charcoal drawing and anatomy classes.
Eddie Perez skipped school regularly when he started at West Salem and had a 1.8 GPA by the end of sophomore year.
His immigrant parents employed some tough love over the summer, making the teen work full-time in a food processing plant during the week, and help his dad with construction jobs for no pay on Saturdays.
Perez got serious about school and is headed to Western Oregon University to study nursing. He completed a barbering license through the district's Career Technical Education Center and plans to work cutting hair to pay living expenses while he's in school.
Megha Joshi took an interest in science and engineering in middle school, when she built a solar-powered water filtration system by watching YouTube tutorials.
Now, she's heading into a third summer working at an Oregon Health & Science University cancer research lab focused on improving drug delivery through nanotechnology. In the fall, she'll continue her education at Yale.
Rafael Peña and Noel Zarate met in elementary school while playing cops and robbers in a southeast Salem apartment complex.
Peña has been interested in a military career for as long as he can remember, and convinced Zarate to join him at North. The two have been leaders in the Viking Battalion, the school's JROTC program, and enlisted in the Marine Corps earlier this year. They'll ship off to boot camp in September.
Drawing has been a refuge and passion for Melody Mendez for years.
The McKay art department teachers picked her as their outstanding graduating senior thanks to her work on her own web comic, "No Where Here," and her efforts to teach herself digital art and animation skills.
Mendez is heading to art school in Portland, where she hopes to continue her comic and eventually become an animator.
Kimberly Schott and classmate Marissa Dougall were upset after learning Salem-Keizer schools required all staff to report any sexual contact between teenagers to the state as child abuse. When district officials said that was based on their interpretation of state law, the pair took the fight to the legislature to seek clarification.
Schott said the experience was eye-opening and showed her she'd like to run for office someday. For now, she's pursuing a business degree.
As choir president, James Nelson's job was to fill in for the choir director when he was absent or needed help. That job became a big one this fall after director David Brown's son, Aaron, took his own life.
Nelson helped the choir grieve together and keep working toward their fall concert, something Brown said wouldn't have happened without his efforts.
Nelson also spearheaded a school pageant to raise $50,000 for a Portland children's hospital and was active in theater productions.
Beatriz Perez dropped out of high school after having her son, Aiden at 15. But after doing farm work with her parents, she decided she wanted to give school another shot.
Through a summer program, Perez discovered an interest in robotics and has been learning to build and program machines through the district's drone technology program.
She hopes to become an environmental engineer so she can help tackle challenges in agriculture, including issues like pollution that impact farm workers.
This article was updated with a more current scholarship total.
Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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