Amity High senior proudly walks on graduation day
AMITY — Though wheelchair-bound since infancy, Natasha Wald was able to rise from her chair and walk across the stage to receive her Amity High School diploma Saturday afternoon, thanks to more than two dozen surgeries.
Friends, relatives and parents of members of the 2014 graduating class, who packed the football stadium grandstand and spilled onto the track below, applauded loudly.
“She’s going to walk across the stage,” educational assistant Katie Richardson said, just moments before fellow student Zach Wilson pushed Wald’s wheelchair up a wooden ramp to the stage.
“She’s very excited. She can do anything.”
Wilson dashed off to reposition the chair as Wald stood, steadying herself on her feet. He met Wald at the other side of the stage, by which point she was clutching her diploma.
Wald said Wilson pushed her up the ramp to the stage because he happened to be behind her in line. Richardson said she was going to do it, but he volunteered.
“He asked, ‘Do you need a motor?’” she said. “I said, ‘Sure.’”
Wald, who plans to enroll at Chemeketa Community College, then transfer to Oregon State University to major in either civil or mechanical engineering, said she first considered walking across the stage at graduation during a practice early last week.
She wavered about it before finally deciding it was something she wanted to do. Wald took her time, but said she felt fine the whole way.
Wald said she wanted to surprise people by walking across the stage. She accomplished that, as not even her mother knew what she had in mind.
Richardson said she had worked one-on-one with Wald throughout the school year. In the process, she said, she came to admire Wald’s work ethic.
“She’s had to work hard, twice as hard as other students,” Richardson said. “She’s an amazing young lady. I’m so proud of her.”
Her mother, Stephanie, said she developed an infection when she was nine months old that changed her life forever.
“In 2009, I never thought we would be here,” she said. “She wasn’t supposed to make it. There was no prognosis.”
Places like the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland and members of the staff and student body at Amity High were instrumental in making sure she made it to graduation day, her mother said.
“Yohana is one of her best friends,” she said, referring to Yohana Ramirez. But she said, “All of the kids have accepted her for who she is.”
She characterized her daughter as a good person with a strong personality — someone who’s nice to everyone.
Staff speaker Kimi Romey, an Amity High grad herself, said Wald and her classmates are students she’s excited about. She said she regrets seeing them leave, because they were bright, hardworking and motivated.
They achieved great success, accumulating 290 college credit hours and securing $1.15 million in scholarships.
“Anyone would want to get to know members of this class,” Romey said. “They were focused and direct. They developed close ties with each other and took care of each other.”
As the seniors leave high school and go out on their own, Romey told them to “make everything a wonder,” and always live in the present.
The valedictorian was Lea Hudson, the salutatorian Derek Ojua.
Class President Shauna McKee said Hudson was great about helping fellow students translate math from a foreign language into useful subject material.
McKee teased about Ojua making everyone feel a little bad about their test scores. “If you got 100 percent, Derek got 101 percent,” she said.
Hudson encouraged her classmates not to hold back and she reminded them that her class is the future, and each one of them must strive to make their own futures.
Amity personalizes commencement each year as the individual who reads the graduate’s name also gives a brief summary of their future plans. They always vary widely, and Saturday was no exception.
One senior wants to live in a log cabin and another wants to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. One wants to work on a shrimp boat, and finally, another wants to live in Japan and buy all the old Nissans that are available.