Castle Rock graduates four 'stars'

Richard DuPertuis
Four stars, named Greg Duarte, Brandon Seymour, Pamela Kuntz and Shayna Thorson, watch the ceremony from their stage. As part of Stacie Ricketts' 6th - 8th grade class at Castle Rock Elementary, these graduates produced two videos that won awards in competitions with much larger schools. They finished their year by taking their cameras to Sacramento to film their Assemblyman sharing his views on small school consolidation.

It was against a painted backdrop depicting a Hollywood night that Castle Rock Elementary School graduated four students Wednesday evening. As a capacity audience rose to its feet in the auditorium, the eighth graders entered on a red carpet that gave way to four Hollywood stars bearing their names.

This setting, as well as the “Shoot for the Stars” theme could have easily been mistaken for a generic proclamation of encouragement for advancing 14 year-olds, but every member of this graduating class was, in fact, a film star who won awards for video clips they themselves shot.

And, as superintendent/principal Mark Telles emphasized in his remarks, they developed with these skills a power that could make a real difference.

“It's not every group of eighth grade graduates who can say that they went to Sacramento to speak respectfully but candidly with their State Assemblyman about education issues, but these students can,” he declared.

Valedictorian Greg Duarte, addressing the crowd gathered to honor the Class of 2011, spoke with a confidence fed by his 4.0 GPA, his winning third place in a county writing competition, and his reign as CRE Student of the Year.

“It feels nice to be Valedictorian, knowing my grades are 100 percent perfect,” he said. “It pretty much means I am extra-smart!”

“I mostly want to be a game designer,” Duarte continued. “I've been doing many things with games since I was six. I've been making music for a couple of years.”

His teacher, Stacie Ricketts, also expressed confidence in his abilities, especially his writing. “You are gifted with words. I have been privileged to read many of your creations,” she said. “I want you to know your words are powerful an you must select what you say very carefully.”

Ricketts addressed all four graduates, one by one, called to her side at the podium. “I'm giving each one of you a red crystal heart, because each of you is taking a piece of my heart with you,” she said.

Of the next graduate, Pamela Kuntz, Ricketts said, “My heart's desire is that you start to let everyone see the incredible person you are. I have seen the diplomatic side of you and have seen you defuse situations. I hope, as you go into high school you decide that you are wonderful and have so much to offer.”

“I have learned not to doubt myself and to just believe in myself, thanks to Ms. Ricketts. I'm excited for high school, but at the same time I'm not, because I don't want to leave this school. But in order for me to achieve my goals, such as becoming a pilot and going into the Air Force, I have to.”

Kuntz was volleyball MVP last year basketball MVP this year.

Graduating student Brandon Seymour, whose resume lists accomplishments such as perfect attendance awards, an art award and service as student government president, shared his reluctance to leave his small school. “I remember when I moved classrooms, from third to fourth and fifth then to six through eighth,” he said. “Now I must move on again... to a completely new school with seniors and sophomores, where big kids roam the halls, not second graders.”

Seymour said that he has long wanted to pursue a career either as police officer or chef.

The last graduating eighth grader honored, Shayna Thorson, is vice president of the student government, was the only one of the four who did not have a history with the elementary school. But though she studied for only one year at Castle Rock, her teacher spotted in her a special quality.

“You have such a caring heart,” said Ricketts. “I love the way you help with the younger children. You have the wonderful capacity to see a need and fill or solve it. The world is a happier place because of you.”

The young woman validated her teacher's assessment. “One of the goals in my life is to help the disabled,” she said.

Thorson also said she wants to become a teacher in basketball and volleyball, the sport for which she was recognized as MVP this year.

In his closing statement, Telles spoke of power, challenging the graduates to remember how to use it the way they learned at this school. He also told of a ripple that had reached his office just that day because of students' wise use of that power.

“Just today, I received a phone call from Assemblyman [Jim] Nielson letting me know that the issue our students spoke to him about is not in any version of the state budget plan, and that he would let us know if we needed to be concerned about it in the future,” he said.

“So here's what that means,” he concluded, nailing it down in one last, parting lesson for his kids, “When one of the most powerful members of the State Assembly Budget Committee takes time out of his incredibly busy day to personally call our little school to keep us informed about pending legislation in Sacramento, I can assure you that these students made a really strong impression.”

Valedictorian Greg Duarte speaks to a packed auditorium at Castle Rock Elementary School at his graduation ceremony 
Wednesday night. Though not quite grown to microphone-height, this 14-year-old earned the title 2011 Student of the Year with a 4.0 GPA, won 3rd place in a county writing contest, and helmed both the school newsletter and yearbook. Well aware of his intelligence, Duarte told the audience he wants to learn how to create new technologies.