‘We’re all one big happy family here’

Clark Fork valedictorian Claire McMahon is all smiles while giving her speech before a packed house on Friday night. (Photo by ERIC PLUMMER)

CLARK FORK — For a fact that tells the tale of the Clark Fork class of 2012 consider this: The 26 graduating seniors brought in more than $205,000 in scholarships, or roughly $7,800 per student.

It’s the highest dollar amount that principal Phil Kemink has seen in his tenure at Clark Fork, and the money will help scores of students continue their education in college.

Kemink was asked what one word best summed up the class of seniors.

“Driven,” he replied at the commencement ceremony on Friday night. “It shows you the dollar amount that they went after.”

The word family came up early and often during the graduation, not surprising considering the tight knit nature of both the community and the school.

Valedictorian Claire McMahon addressed a packed gym with an impassioned speech imploring her fellow seniors to try not to fit into any mold and to live life on their own terms.

She wondered why everyone keeps talking about joining the real world.

“It’s not like the last 12 years of our lives were fake,” said McMahon, who  will attend Pacific University in Oregon in the fall. “There is a reason everyone calls Clark Fork a family. We’ve all grown up together. We have completely different personalities, but we all come together as a class perfectly.”

Class president Tabitha Van Buren plans to study nursing next year at Lewis and Clark State College in Lewiston, where she is already a sophomore thanks to graduating from Clark Fork with a whopping 38 hard-earned college credits.

She said the college credits are a relief, because in the long run they’ll help curb the cost of tuition.

“I’m going to have a four year degree in two and a half years,” said Van Buren, who once again dropped that familiar F-word. “The best part of Clark Fork is your class is your family. We’re all one big happy family here, we really are.”

Teacher Larry Smith, who moved to the area 10 years ago, called Clark Fork “just a little bit of heaven,” and marveled at how the small community and school bend over backward for people.

Smith then had each student stand up on the stage for the kind of individual flavor that only a small school graduation can capture. After having all the family members in attendance stand up for acknowledgement, each student was asked what they learned in high school.

One of the more humorous answers came from Jonathan May, who plans to study theater in college.

“Clark Fork High School is like a really big family,” said May, pausing for comedic effect. “A really big, dysfunctional family.”

Some other answers, both funny and serious, included: Senior project is hard; make the best out of everything even though it sucks; appreciate the small things; you need to know when to shut up; I learned how to use bobby pins; you have to wear shoes in school; go for it; don’t procrastinate; physics is hard; do what you do and do it well; and suffer in silence — not that I ever have, but it’s a nice thought.

The lights were then dimmed for a slide show of every student, spanning in age from baby pictures to senior portraits, and put to the music of their choice.

Stillman Berkley, one of two class salutatorians along with Laray Stoffels, might have summed up the night’s festivities best.

“Some are in a hurry to leave,” said Berkley in his speech. “But I think they’ll soon realize how good they had it here.”

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