COQUILLE — Over the weekend, Coquille High School celebrated the graduating class of 2020 with its first-ever drive-in graduation ceremony.
The ceremony, which featured dozens of cars parked at the high school, honored students for their hard work and dedication in completing their senior year amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
Celebratory sounds of car horns and cheering community members filled the school parking lot as students were called one-by-one to an outdoor stage to receive their diplomas. The ceremony, which was broadcasted live via radio, will be available on YouTube this week.
The class of 2020, which consists of approximately 42 seniors, was able to give their input last month on how they wanted this year’s graduation ceremony to go. With traditional ceremonies not possible under the current safety precautions due to the pandemic, students and school officials thought outside the box to feature a ceremony where they could come together and celebrate.
“It’s a small class, but they left a big impression,” said Coquille High School Principal Jeff Philley. “It was good to see the kids have their moment one more time.”
A parade, led by the Coquille Police Department, celebrated the seniors with community members who stood outside to cheer and applaud the class as they made their way around downtown Coquille.
This year’s valedictorians and salutatorians chatted with The World to share the lessons they’ve learned, their plans for the future and the people they credit for helping shape them into successful young adults.
Class of 2020 Valedictorians
Carlee GeDeros, 18, admitted she was relieved when she heard the news that she had earned a position as one of this year’s valedictorians. GeDeros said she worked hard to secure the position.
GeDeros said she was a bit shocked at first when the announcements were made last month at a virtual award show hosted by the school. It was a moment she said she was grateful to share with her family.
Since her freshmen year, GeDeros has held positions in the National Honor Society, Key Club and 4-H. She’s also played basketball all four years of school and participated in track and cross country.
With graduation completed, GeDeros said her plans included moving to Corvallis to attend Oregon State University, where she intends on majoring in bio-health sciences on the pre-ophthalmology path. GeDeros said she hopes to one day become an ophthalmologist.
“When I was in middle school (when) I realized I couldn’t see what was written on the white board...,” said GeDeros. “I went to the eye doctor and ended up having to get contacts because I have astigmatism.”
Wanting to help others undergoing similar challenges with vision, GeDeros said she knew immediately she wanted to move into the healthcare industry. As part of a work experience course offered at Coquille High School, GeDeros was able to gain some job experience at the Coquille Vision Center.
Her parents, Traci and Tyler GeDeros, as well as her math teacher Shane Boyd and English teacher Troy Cooper are among the people she said she credits with helping her do her best this past year.
“I’m going to miss how close the community is and how everyone supports each other,” said GeDeros.
Anella Willis, 17, said she too was surrounded by family when she heard the news she earned a position as valedictorian for the Class of 2020. A family tradition, Willis joined her father and grandmother in becoming a valedictorian, a mission she said she’s been on since sixth grade.
“After my dad told me he was the valedictorian for his class in high school and his mom too, I knew from that moment forward I was going to do the same,” said Willis. “I worked really hard and anytime I was struggling with something I knew I could ask my dad for help because he’s been through it.”
Despite this year being stressful and having a number of challenges, Willis said she is happy to live in such a tight-knit community like Coquille. Since her freshmen year, Willis has held positions in National Honor Society, Science Club, Key Club and class council. She also participated in track and soccer.
For her post-graduation plans, Willis said she will be attending Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, where she plans to major in nutrition and dietetics. Willis said she hopes to become a sports nutritionist working with a collegiate or professional sports team.
“I’ve always liked working out and over the past few years my focus has shifted over to nutrition,” said Willis. “My eating habits have always been something that I struggle with and I want to help others with that because I know how it feels… I want to help others not go through that or have someone that they can lean on.”
Coquille High School health teacher Peyton Yates is among the people Willis said that has inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and health.
Looking forward to the future, Willis said she’s excited to enter into a new phase of her life and is taking in every moment that she can.
“I feel like all throughout high school, graduation has always been this end goal,” said Willis. “I kind of got caught up in that goal and didn’t take as much time to enjoy where I was or who I was with and so my parting words to my class is to remember to take the time to be in the moment and to try not to rush to your end destination....”
Jessica Rowe, 18, like so many of her fellow classmates, is filled with a mixture of emotions ranging from joy to sadness as she said she’ll miss her friends, teachers and school staff.
With the school year disrupted by the pandemic, Rowe said she ended out her senior year keeping in touch with friends via video conferencing apps and social distancing gatherings as a way to check in on one another. The connections she’s formed at school are relationships she said she hopes to build more of in the next chapter of her life.
Rowe, who was also named a valedictorian for 2020, credits her parents, Renee and John Rowe, with showing her what hard works looks like and for supporting her throughout her high school career.
Since her freshmen year, Rowe has held positions as the president of National Honor Society, the Equestrian team, cheer team, Horse 4-H and class council.
With graduation completed, Rowe said her plans include attending George Fox University where she intends to major in biology.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to work with kids and then in high school I got really interested in all my science classes especially the medical classes,” said Rowe. “So I’m thinking I want to be some kind of pediatric doctor. My dream job is to be a pediatric-oncologist.”
Reflecting back on her time at Coquille High School, Rowe said teachers have always been so helpful and will really miss everyone.
“My quote for my class is to remember you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you feel and smarter than you think,” said Rowe.
Class of 2020 Salutatorians
Morgan Baird’s career goals stretch far beyond boundaries. The 18-year-old, who was named one of this year’s salutatorians, said she has dreams of one day becoming a diplomat or a foreign service officer for the United States.
“I’ve always been really interested in history,” said Baird. “I joined ‘Model U.N.’ last year and I got really interested in global studies.”
With a passion and love for learning about other cultures, Baird said in the fall she plans on attending Portland State University where she intends on majoring in global studies.
Like her fellow classmates, Baird said she looked up to many of the teachers at Coquille High School for inspiration and motivation to achieve her goals. Math teacher Shane Boyd and social studies teacher James Casselberry are among the people she said have made a difference in her life.
“Mr. Casselberry, who ended up moving away, just made every day so exciting,” said Baird. “He got me started on the path to global studies and made me very passionate about it… Mr. Boyd, my math teacher, made math, which was my less favorite subject, super enjoyable. He always tries his hardest for each student and makes everyone want to try their best to be better people.”
Since her freshmen year, Baird has held positions in class council, National Honor Society, Philosophy club, among others. She also participated in band, basketball, volleyball and track and cross country.
At Portland State University, Baird said she will continue to play basketball for the university. As her classmates begin to move forward with their post-graduation plans as well, Baird said they’ll continue to stay in touch and reflect back on the good memories made while at school.
“My parting words to my classmates is this, ‘Embrace the future, our best moments are still coming,’" said Baird.
Samantha Huffman, 18, was surprised when she found out she had earned a position a salutatorian for the Class of 2020.
Huffman said the teachers and staff at Coquille created an environment for success.
“...I think all of the teachers at Coquille High School do a really good job at making students feel like they get enough help and support and so all of the teachers throughout my career really helped me do my best academically and have challenged me," she said.
In the fall, Huffman said she plans on attending Oregon State University, where she will study fisheries and wildlife biology.
A member of the ecology program at school, Huffman said the more she learned about wildlife biology the more passionate she became. Huffman credits the program’s hands-on activities and field trips led by Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife biologists with keeping her interested in the potential career path.
“We raised our own fish until COVID-19 happened and then we had to release them prematurely, but we got the chance to raise them from eggs,” said Huffman. “They were Chinook salmon and I got super interested in it. My dream job would be to work as a fishery biologists and work with classrooms.”
Huffman said she hopes to focus her work on outreach and education within schools and the communities looking to learn more about wildlife and fish hatcheries in particular.
Since her freshmen year, Huffman has held positions in National Honor Society, Key club, Speech and debate club, among others.
“Our class is one of the smallest to go through Coquille for a little while, so we’ve always been pretty close,” said Huffman. “We’re like a little family and we all have our ups and downs, but it’s been a really good time and a lot of good memories were made with everybody. I think everyone took it hard with the loss of our senior year, but we’re all excited to see everyone again (at graduation) and looking forward to the future.”