Thursday, September 21, 2023

Class of 2023 a tough bunch

| June 4, 2023 12:00 AM

Adversity and resilience. Perseverance and strength. Challenge and opportunity.

These are some of the words used to describe the Flathead Valley’s Class of 2023 — as tough of a bunch as there’s ever been. We discovered as much in last week’s Inter Lake series that offered a personal look at the characteristics of this year’s graduating seniors.

Their defining traits of grit and tenacity likely come, in part, from the obstacles they faced during the pandemic. These graduates were in the heart of their high school years when Covid-19 changed everything — activities and events were called off, and instruction was moved to virtual classrooms.

Yet, they endured and ultimately overcame — just look at the lengthy list of 4.0 students included in this edition.

The Covid years presented extra challenges for some, like Whitefish graduate Amber Samuels, who was the first deaf student to go through the Whitefish school system. While wearing masks, she couldn’t read lips and the sound was muffled, and face shields bounced her own voice back into her cochlear implants, which was painful. Not to mention online classes that lacked proper closed captioning.

Not one to give up, she adapted and adjusted her routine, and found the strength to speak up for herself to ensure she wouldn’t be left behind.

“She became so much better at advocating for herself because she had to,” Samuels’ mother glowed.

Other graduates with this Class of 2023 have risen above devastating tragedy and unthinkable suffering to reach commencement day.

Columbia Falls High School senior Carli Harrah lost her father to suicide. Navigating the grieving process alongside the demands of school proved to be an endeavor.

“It was just hard being around people when something so big happens to you and they can’t really go through it with you — they don’t know what you’re going through and nobody can really help,” she said.

Yet, with the guidance of school counselor Brian Crandell, she came out stronger and is now ready to pursue a career in the medical field.

“It is rare to see someone be ripped wide open by events yet still have the strength and grace to carry on,” Crandell commented. “I feel privileged to have been with her on her journey.”

Then there’s Flathead High School senior Jacob Fort, who emerged from an abusive childhood and multiple placements in the foster care system with his kindness and compassion still intact.

His remarkable attitude about what lies ahead is truly inspirational.

“I see [life] as a new chapter, but also making up for lost time for sure,” he said. “You know, it’s a whole different life. So I want to make it better than I had it.”

Anyone who questions the fortitude of today’s youth hasn’t met this batch of future leaders.

Congratulations to the Class of 2023 — we can’t wait to see what they do next.

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