CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “No other senior class has walked through their senior year like this one.”
Herbert Hoover High School student Raechel Stevens used that phrase to describe the final school year of the Class of 2017.
“Walking through the mud and the water, only to shake our boots off to dry and put them back on,” Stevens said to the audience. “Leaning on one another for support.”
More than 150 Herbert Hoover High seniors walked across the stage at the Charleston Municipal Auditorium Thursday evening, wearing white, blue and scarlet graduation gown and caps. Students in white were recognized for their academic achievements, while blue and scarlet are part of the class’ colors.
The commencement took place nearly 11 months after a flood damaged 70 percent of the Clendenin school, closing it permanently.
Students, teachers and faculty had to share space at Elkview Middle School on a split schedule, with classes beginning at noon and ending at 4:30 p.m.
Sports teams practiced at different facilities across the county. The boy’s basketball team, for example, worked on their skills at the Charleston YMCA.
Senior Class President Jonathan Stodola described this year as “absolutely nuts.”
“None of could have expected this,” he said.
Principal Michael Kelley said the flood did change how the class’ four years were addressed, but he was proud of his students’ character and leadership starting after the flood happened.
“They have not let this flood derail their education, they have not let it ruin their senior year and they refuse to be defined by the flood,” he said. “They’ve instead been defined by how they overcome.”
During his welcoming address, Kelley noted how U.S. News & World Report as the 12th best high school in West Virginia with an 81 percent graduation rate. He said academically, Herbert Hoover is continuing to improve.
“Seeing them go about their business with a positive attitude, I believe they have lifted us up,” he said. “I believe they have held us together.”
The school’s athletic teams also were successful; six programs participated in state tournaments, including the boy’s basketball team, who punched its ticket after beating Robert C. Byrd High School 55-51 in double overtime.
Stevens, who plans on attending Liberty University in the fall, said this year’s success could not have been possible without the help of Kanawha County residents and organizations, as well as national groups.
“So many people that we’ll never know their names,” she said prior to her speech. “So many cool things that happen even though it was a tragedy. So many positives.”
Stodola said he is going to Wheeling Jesuit in August. He said he is so proud of what his peers were able to accomplish this year.
“I’ve known most of these guys since grade school,” he explained. “It’s just been awesome to see all of us become grown men and women about to go out into the workforce.”
Work on portable classrooms at Elkview Middle is expected to be completed by the start of the 2017-2018 school year, according to Chuck Wilson, executive director of facilities planning for Kanawha County Schools.
In a related story, seniors at Richwood High School in Nicholas County were also graduated in ceremonies Thursday night. Like the students at Hoover, Richwood’s building was also wiped out by the flood. Governor Jim Justice addressed graduates in Richwood Thursday night, telling them, “Never forget where you came from.”