The Septuagenarian Speaks – Published June 9, 2021, Siskiyou Daily News

How well do you remember your high school senior year? I remember mine quite well, even though it was 62 years ago (Cheyenne High School, Cheyenne, Wyoming, class of ’59.) There are vast stretches of my septuagenarian life that have disappeared from my memory, but some still stick with me vividly, almost like they happened yesterday. I remember with fondness being a nine-year old with a new bicycle in a small rural town in the Salinas Valley. Freedom! My college years at the University of Arizona were memorable. That’s where I met Ann. I remember the birth of our kids, and I remember Ann and me as a young couple in our 30’s, new to Yreka, experiencing for the first time the joys of backpacking and exploring the mountains, forests and rivers of Siskiyou County. My high school senior year was up there with the best.

Last year I worried about the Yreka High School class of 2020, when it became apparent in the spring that high school life would be substantially altered. The pandemic would be over soon, wouldn’t it? I worried about Tommy, my grandson, then a junior. Was he going to be deprived of the normal joys of being a senior in high school? Well, the pandemic wasn’t over when school started last fall, and still isn’t, although normalcy is returning. They did have a senior prom this year, and Tommy’s Class of 2021 YHS graduation this Saturday will be (kinda) normal. Still, it’s been a lost year, with times when there were no actual in-person classes. The sports seasons didn’t occur when they should have and were condensed. The Class of 2021 seniors have a right to be bummed. Are they? They don’t seem to be complaining. In fact, they are grateful.

Carrie Henry is a YHS English teacher who taught most of this year’s seniors. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that Ms. Henry is my daughter. She recently gave her students an interesting assignment. The students were each asked to write a paper nominating someone to whom they were grateful, giving the reasons, explaining how they knew and interacted with the nominee and what qualities the nominee possessed to deserve recognition and gratitude. The nominee could be an individual person or a group. Each student’s paper was then given to a different student who did not know and was not familiar with first student’s nominee. The second student then wrote a thank-you letter to the nominee, expressing gratitude and mentioning the first student’s name.

The results were delightful. I could fill this entire newspaper page with the expressions of gratitude that came out of this, but I will just give you some randomly selected quotes.

Cliff Blakely and Travis Robison were thanked for their contributions to YHS’s basketball program. Cliff Blakely “came out of retirement from coaching because he believed that he could make a change in our basketball program and using his leadership, hard work, and dedication, he did just that.” Travis Robison “pushes individuals to become greater than they think that they become not just in basketball but in life as well.”

Scott Eastman was thanked for “what he has done for the community and for the high school mainly by getting everyone involved with the kids.”

Florrine Super was nominated for “the help she does for native kids. She would organize activities at the Kahtishraam Wellness Center for kids to come to before Covid-19. She held parenting classes as well as boys council and girls council as well as activities for elders and community gatherings.”

“I want to nominate the Y.E.S (Youth Empowerment Siskiyou) organization because of everything they are trying to accomplish for the foster youth in Siskiyou County. They believe that all children deserve a home where they feel safe, loved, and comfortable.”

“I am nominating Nurse Amy (Gaither) because she does so much to make sure that everyone at this school is safe and healthy … She has been through so much in the past year and it is astronomical how she keeps a level head with all that she deals with.”

“The Siskiyou Food Assistance program is a group of volunteers who give their time to ensure everybody has food to eat … This is an amazing organization, helping people in need, bringing change to the people around them … Providing special meals for the holidays, it shows how much care and time is put into this operation.”

“I believe that United Scholarships Inc. should get a letter of gratitude because they have been helping Yreka High School graduates get educational opportunities since 1964 … Since they first began, they have awarded 2,658 scholarships to graduates in the Yreka Union High School District, and getting one of these scholarships has really helped me afford my first year of college.”

“I would like to thank the organization of Friends of Hibbard for making sure the Yreka High School varsity boys baseball team had a home field to play on when our season came around. This team of great people made sure the field stayed nice and ready and even made improvements along the way too.”

“I feel that the volunteers and employees of Habitat for Humanity deserve a huge thanks for their helpful nature. They just want everyone to have a safe place to sleep at night, and they try their very best to make that happen for every person at an affordable price.”

“I am nominating Julia Alford because she works for the Yreka Police Department as a dispatcher. Her job requires her to deal with lots of people who are mainly mean. She works hard and puts others before herself. She shows hard work by working 13 hour shifts without leaving the same spot. She helps the people who call by sending help and making sure the person on the phone remains calm.”

This is the tip of the iceberg.

Sixty years from now the Yreka High School Class of 2021 will have vivid memories of their senior year, but for far different reasons than why I remember mine. This makes me sad, but maybe I shouldn’t be. These students had a tough year, and still they are grateful. They learned a lot. And maybe we can learn from them.

Bob Kaster
Yreka, California

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