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Farmington High School graduates 374 amid aftermath of shooting

Grads were challenged, encouraged and honored
Former Farmington High School Principal Timothy Kienitz and current principal Rocky Torres hold a sign to challenge and inspire. (David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record)

After a tragic event involving a Farmington High School student, the graduating class of 2023 will seek to overcome trauma and grief as they begin a new chapter in life.

The graduation ceremony took place as scheduled, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hutchinson Stadium.

Trey Jones, class salutatorian, said he had taken classes at FHS since eighth grade and quoted C.S. Lewis, saying, “You are never to old to set a new goal or dream a new dream.”

Jones said he was disappointed by not being selected as valedictorian – his lifelong dream – but was glad it went to his good friend, Cannon Hilton. Jones stressed the importance of SMART goal setting, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

He said the components are useful tools in goal setting, accountability and self-improvement, but “they can only get you so far.” He suggested adding another letter ‘R’ to SMART, making it SMARTER, for resiliency, which means “putting a smile on your face and bouncing back.”

Jones said people only learn through failure, quoting Confucius, “A man is not great because he hasn’t failed, a man is great because failure hasn’t stopped him.” He said resiliency was needed when “our own principal hit another student’s car in the student parking lot,” making the crowd laugh.

Salutatorian Trey Jones suggested adding and ‘R’ to SMART, as he emphasized the importance of “resiliency.” (David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record)

“Mistakes happen, but we learn from them and move on,” Jones said.

Jones said in elementary school he struggled, showing low academic and behavioral performance and lacking direction. He settled into a state of mediocrity and contentedness. He said he also dealt with mental health issues, bouts of depression and self-loathing.

Jones said he reached out to a fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Baxter, who expressed genuine care and provided assistance with both his academic and personal struggles. They met early in the morning before school started.

Baxter walked with Jones as his honor escort. He thanked Baxter, his best friend Palmer Bentley, Dr. Teun Fetz for inspiring his lifelong passion for the cello, his mom, dad, the educators and God. “I owe it all to the Creator,” he said.

Jones concluded by saying to his classmates, “You will fall short and you will fail, and failing is exactly what we need. Make goals, strive for them, fight, sacrifice and most importantly, be resilient.”

Valedictorian Cannon Hilton acknowledged the resilience displayed by Jones and thanks his parents and family for helping him. He thanked the “amazing teachers and staff of FHS for their selfless service and tireless efforts … you’re incredible,”

He thanked the Farmington police officers and first responders “who selflessly serve and protect our community.”

Hilton acknowledged others who deserve the award, those who have overcome personal and family tragedies and those who have survived mental and physical challenges and those who have fled war-torn countries and are completing their education here.

Hilton described the challenges his graduating class had faced, including the pandemic, lockdowns and “fear and uncertainty.” He said they were faced with the decision to “either hold on to the hope that this too shall pass or give up our dreams in the face of discouragement and despair.”

“We, the graduating class of 2023, chose hope … we believed in a brighter future,” Hilton said. “The pandemic taught us how much we need each other. We learned that there’s room for all, but there’s no room for prejudice,” Hilton said. “We learned that we are better together.”

Hilton said that next week when he takes the oath to defend the U. S. Constitution as he joins the Air Force, he’ll be swearing loyalty to an “idea and that idea is America. … the idea that people can rule themselves and work together for a common good … that we can be united despite our differences … that humanity and love will always prevail.”

Timothy Kienitz, FHS principal from 2012 to 2021, offered the guest speech. He said his words were prepared weeks ago before Monday’s shooting, but he believed his message was “ordained and predetermined for this very moment,” and still the “right message.”

Kienitz recounted the difficulties and hardships of dealing with the complete remodel of FHS and the “onslaught of COVID that turned into something that no one could have imagined.”

“Now all that’s behind you – no more troubles, no more issues – you’ll never face any challenges again,” Kienitz said facetiously.

“What happened (Monday) … we know that trouble does come. It rains. Sometimes it rains hard,” Kienitz said.

He referenced a “an ancient text by the Hebrew kings” that described “people of valor.” He quoted, “These people were ones who knew the times and knew what to do about it. They were people of valor and discernment.”

“I know you know what’s going on around you today. You’ve been well-prepared by your teachers and whatever they didn’t teach you … you’re going to pick up through Discord, Twitter, Tic Tok, Instagram, Discord, Twitter, twitchtube,” he joked. “The world is not going to be without its troubles ahead. My advice is know the times and know what to do about it.”

“You will overcome the challenges of yesterday and the future ahead,” Kienitz said. “When you face challenges … you need to know who you are, what your purpose is … and how to be overcomers,” he said.

Kienitz and FHS Principal Rocky Torres held up a sign from the students that read, “Find a Way to Win,” a phrase used by football coach Dalton over the years.

“This is a strong, tenacious community and we will find a way to overcome,” Kienitz said.

The honor graduates were introduced by Dawn Kynast, senior counselor, followed by Torres with his address to the audience.

Torres said, “First, you will notice … an empty chair with a bouquet of white roses. We’d like to recognize our fellow graduates, family members and friends who could not be with us here tonight. We know the impact you’ve made.” He asked for a moment of silence.

Torres acknowledged and thanked parents for their support of the graduates and he credited teachers and staff who “have adapted to an ever-changing world.” He praised staff for rising to the challenge of “doing 1% better each day.”

Rocky Torres, FHS principal, encouraged the grads to “recognize their potential”. (David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record)

Torres said this year’s graduating class, totaling 374, was offered over $9.2 million in scholarships.

Torres encouraged the grads to recognize their own potential because “tonight is not where it ends.”

Quoting President Franklin Roosevelt, he said the “only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.”

He added, “Your choices, your effort and your attitude is what makes your tomorrow happen.”

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