A ‘very big night’ at Castle Rock Elementary School

Richard DuPertuis
Castle Rock Elementary School valedictorian Randy Hix surprises 8th grade teacher Stacie Ricketts with a token of his appreciation. Other graduates also cited Ricketts in their speeches as a decisive influence in their scholastic improvements. Trent Johnson credited her special attention to his spelling and vocabulary for his transformation from a D student to an A student.

The first thing noticed walking into the ceremonial hall at Castle Rock Elementary School last Wednesday was the quiet intimacy of the place. In a room scaled more for a church social than the decorum and pomp of an eighth grade graduation, approximately 50 people gathered as in fellowship. Though the room and the crowd was small, all those present felt that this would be “a very big night.”

Those were among the welcoming words from school principal Mark Telles. Behind him sat the honored seven, and behind them hung an acrylic painting, bordered by seven portraits. All painted by art and music teacher Debbie Blackwell, the portraits were caricatures of the graduates, and the large, central artwork depicted a view rolling hills beyond the arched doorway of a garden gazebo, fitting of tonight's theme, “The World is Our Doorstep.”

About to step out that door were graduates Joshua Ricketts, Trent Johnson, Deborah Kropf, Dayton Pepperdine, Fawn Gooch, Paige Jankowski and class valedictorian Randy Hix. Teacher Stacie Ricketts introduced each graduate before he or she stepped forward to deliver a speech.

First was her son, Joshua Ricketts. He spoke about how much fun school had been, especially on the basketball court.

He shared a high point of the past year – telling state senator Jim Neilson how important it was for Sacramento to support rural schools.

What Ricketts would remember most was the teamwork he experienced both in sports and with his classmates, he said.

“I will never forget this school,” he vowed. “The hardest thing is leaving.”

Johnson's speech overflowed with gratitude to the school and to the individual attention possible in small classes. It was this close association with his teachers, especially with Ricketts, that enabled him overcome a plague of D's and graduate as an honor student, he said.

Had the school recognized the rank, Johnson's GPA would have qualified him as salutatorian.

“They made me an A student,” he said. “I won't ever forget the friends I made here.”

Ricketts said that Kropf's interest in writing gave her the incentive to work hard, which brought her grades up high enough to make graduation.

Kropf said that after bouncing back and forth between schools, it was here at Castle Rock she finally learned the secret of success.

“It's about studying, paying attention and staying out of trouble,” she said. “I don't know how I would have done it without you all.”

Introduced as an athlete, a team player, and someone who gives 200 percent no matter what he does, valedictorian Hix opened his speech with thanks to all who have helped him learn, beginning with lessons like “don't pinch the girls.”

Hix finished with a mature assessment of the importance of a positive role model, and of personal responsibility. “The choices are mine, good or bad,” he said. “And they come with consequences.”

Sports aspirant Pepperdine began, “My parents are my heroes. They support me in whatever I do.” He, too, recognized the advantages to Castle Rock's smaller classes  and gave Ms. Ricketts major credit for his scholastic achievements.

Looking to the immediate future he said, “It's hard to believe I'm just a few months from high school. I'm excited for whatever is in store for me there.”

Creative writer Gooch demonstrated her talent with her first words, praising her grandfather, her father and her mother.

“Thanks to my family, I have grown up to become what I always wanted to be.”

Gooch stressed to her classmates that although they may someday part, “We will still be friends, wherever we go. And now that we are finished, no one can say that we didn't stick it out.”

Ricketts introduced the final graduate, Jankowski, as “the most incredible young woman I have ever met. Her talent in writing is so incredible, it can bring tears to your eyes. I'm sure I will see her name on a book some day.”

Jankowski didn't disappoint. In prose of quality rarely generated by so young a mind, she told of her educational journey, from the sharing of toys to the sharing of love. She finished by sharing some of her dreams which, she declared confidently, “I will accomplish.”