By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Willamina graduates receive a neighborly sendoff

Marcus Larson / News-RegisterBlack-robed graduates are eager to receive their diplomas.
Marcus Larson / News-Register
Black-robed graduates are eager to receive their diplomas.

The couple moved to town about eight years ago from Lompoc, which lies northwest of Santa Barbara in Southern California.

“We chose this community, the community didn’t choose us,” Bob said.

He and his wife immediately plunged into civic affairs. They have been playing a major role in organizing the annual Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.

A sign that reads “Go Dawgs” hangs from the front porch railing at their residence. The Bulldog is Willamina’s mascot, and the baseball, football and softball teams have continued to play games on the old high school site just down the street from the Hollinger home.

About half an hour before Saturday afternoon’s 101st high school commencement exercise, Bob changed the sign to read “Go Grads.”

A passerby, en route to the ceremony, thanked him for supporting Willamina students.

“The more kids who graduate from this high school, the better off this community is going to be,” he asserted.

Superintendent Gus Forster said the day was as much about celebrating the success of each graduate’s parents, who had ushered their children through many years of school, as the students themselves.

Sharing valedictorian honors were Whitney Anderson, Cheyanne Fasana and Tyler Heidt. Earning salutatorian honors was Jill Coblentz.

Dean of Students Bart Baldwin, who doubles as the school’s Teacher on Special Assignment, delivered the graduation speech.

“It’s an outstanding class, bar none,” Baldwin told graduates, parents and relatives. “It’s a fantastic class.

“We loved teaching this class. It’s why we got into education.”

Whenever he is asked why he wanted to become a teacher, and why he enjoys teaching so much, he explains how the profession provides him with an opportunity to “open doors” for students.

“It’s an amazing moment where you’re at,” said Baldwin, who encouraged the graduates to always feel a part of the Willamina community, even though life may eventually lead them elsewhere. “This is a special place,” he said.

Baldwin poked fun at a few seniors, who he playfully labeled “criminals,” including Tyson Day.

“He was supposed to be about 6-foot-3,” Baldwin said, “but he was always carrying around this 500-pound backpack. It was full of school supplies.”

Day, like the other students singled out by Baldwin, had been playfully busted.

Anderson recognized three retiring teachers — Julie Peters, Kathy West and Roy Whitman. She said the students who come along after they’re gone will miss them the most, without even realizing it.

Graduation will lend itself to new experiences for Anderson and her classmates, and she hopes they are great times.

Coblentz, like Anderson, paid tribute to the retirees, saying they will be missed dearly, and that she will cherish the memories she has of them.

The class of 2014 accomplished so much in the areas of academics and athletics, Coblentz said, and she characterized the class as one that gave a lot of itself.

“Each one of us have people to thank,” she said. “Getting here can be an unbearable job.”

Heidt has a lasting pictorial of his graduation, as he snapped a quick selfie with his iPhone before addressing his class and the audience.

“High school were the best days of my life,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t want to grow up.”

As individuals, Heidt said, no one in the class really knows what’s in store for them in the years to come.

He sent his classmates off into the future by telling them, “We are the few, the proud, the class of 2014.”

Various honors were bestowed upon many seniors, with Heidt and Fasana being named Boy and Girl of the Year.

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