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Greater Albany Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Lisa Harlan had two questions for South Albany High School's Class of 2019: If not you, who? If not now, when?

Harlan helped kick off the graduation ceremony held Tuesday night at the Linn County Expo Center. The event saw 260 students turn their tassels as the first class to shed the Rebels label and leave the nest as RedHawks.

The ceremony, led by first-year principal Nate Munoz, honored veterans, teachers, classified workers, student athletes, drama students and art students for just over two hours.

Valedictorian Hannah Michalek earned the highest weighted grade-point average of her class ahead of 16 other students who earned a 4.0 during all four years at South Albany High School. On Tuesday night, Michalek thanked her class for its support and reminded them that each day is an opportunity for success and that failures offered a chance as well.

“We did not get here on our own,” she said. “The connection we created only grew stronger. Our time at South Albany will last beyond our last day.”

Salutatorian Kayla Jones also spoke, giving three pieces of advice to her fellow graduates: go somewhere new, make new friends and don’t limit yourself.

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Munoz reminded the class that it had already made good on the promise to defy limits. The class of 2019 was in eighth grade when South Albany High School implemented the AVID program aimed at helping students who otherwise would not make it to college go on to enter higher education. Earlier this year, the school was recognized as the first high school in Oregon to become an AVID demonstration school and every AVID student in the class of 2019 was accepted to college, earning $1.5 million in scholarships and grants.

And while graduates C.J. Kelley and Ambri Burton presented speeches to their class as well sharing the lessons they’d learned and the excitement at having made it to graduation, school board member Frank Bricker had a different piece of advice.

After serving 25 years on the board, Bricker said he’s been to approximately 60 graduations. South Albany High School’s class of 2019 would be his last after announcing his retirement earlier this year.

“No one remembers the speeches,” he said, imploring the class of 2019 to be safe and thanking them for showing up, taking tests and working hard.

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