Walking the walk
When Medford high school graduates dressed in their caps and gowns stepped off a bus at Hoover Elementary School Thursday morning, they were given rock star treatment.
Their adoring fans — teachers, staff, administrators and parents — shouted congratulations and gave a thunderous round of applause. Throngs of current Hoover students lined the perimeter of the school, extending their arms for high-fives and holding signs with messages such as, “Way to go,” “You’re a rock star” and “Do a backflip!”
“This is a very exciting day for our kids and our Hoover community,” said Sandy Holman, principal of the elementary school. “If they work hard and apply themselves, then they will someday get to walk through our school halls and inspire the next group of graduates.”
The festivities were all part of “Grad Walk,” one way the Medford School District honors graduating seniors. Those who choose to participate put on their robes and walk through the elementary and middle schools they once attended.
Out of roughly 936 students graduating this year, 469 participated in Grad Walk — a record for the event, now in its fifth year. District spokeswoman Natalie Hurd said she suspects the turnout had to do with more teachers encouraging students to participate, as well as the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions seen the past two school years.
Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion noted that during his first year leading the district in 2020, Grad Walk turned into a drive-by because of pandemic restrictions.
But the 2022 version of the event saw a much different vibe.
“The electricity from the students has been palpable, and from the adults who have been able to receive these kids,” Champion said. “It’s one of my favorite traditions, and getting to see it full-tilt this year has been special.”
Champion said he hoped graduates would be able to reconnect with people who were special to them at their former schools and reflect on where they’ve come from. For the elementary and middle school students, Champion hoped they would think to themselves: “We can do this thing.”
“Also, they look up to the students at the high schools; they’re like these superheroes. There’s this notion, ‘One day, that’s going to be me,’” Champion said.
For Riley Stephenson, a North Medford graduate, going back to Hoover was sentimental. She saw old teachers and recognized paintings on the wall she had forgotten about. But size was something she didn’t expect to think about as she walked around Hoover.
“It was crazy going back to my elementary school and seeing all the little kids. They were a lot smaller than I thought they’d be. When I was in sixth grade, I thought that I was a lot bigger than that,” she said.
Stephenson also reflected on what it was like being a student at Hoover and watching the graduates walk through the halls of her school.
“I remember thinking that they were so big, and that was so far away, but here I am now,” said Stephenson, who plans to attend Brigham Young University in Utah. “It went by really fast. It was a lot of work to climb all the way to the top of that mountain.”
During the Grad Walk at Hoover Elementary, some of the North and South Medford high school grads looked in amazement at photos of themselves when they were Hoover students lining the walls outside the school.
When the procession ended, the graduates participated with students and members of the Hoover band in a singalong of the elementary school’s song.
“Hoover! Hoover! That’s our name! We’re the Hoover Hurricanes,” the lyrics go. “With an H - double O and a V, E, R, we Hurricanes can really roar!”
After playing for the graduates, first-grade teacher Dan Blaydon, who plays drums for the Hoover rock band trio, said, “My heart’s still beating.”
“It’s an honor. It’s so much fun to see all of these people, and I’m so glad they actually recognize me because it’s hard to recognize them,” Blaydon said. “When I had them, they were, like, here. Now, they’re taller than me.”
He wished that “every day is the best day” for the graduates.
Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.