Before embarking on their next adventure, dozens of Powell teens will receive something they’ve worked hard for: Their high school diplomas.
One hundred and fifteen Powell High School seniors and 13 Shoshone Learning Center students will graduate Sunday afternoon. The SLC graduation ceremony begins at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the PHS Auditorium, while the PHS graduation follows at 2 p.m. in the school’s gymnasium.
The Class of 2019 always stepped up and faced adversity that came their way, said PHS Principal Jim Kuhn.
“This class in many respects had what I would call the most ‘grit’ of any group of seniors,” he said.
Kuhn said how you come back from obstacles defines who you are — whether you quit, complain, look for a solution and have the grit to overcome an obstacle and move forward.
The Class of 2019 didn’t let disappointments slow them down.
“We had a great blend of seniors that could put things in perspective, draw from each other and move forward,” he said.
Kuhn said they’ve also done a lot of good things for the school and community.
Collectively, the class had an overall GPA of 3.28 and a class composite score of 21.28 on the ACT. During their years at PHS, they completed a combined 1,062 credit hours of college level work.
The Shoshone Learning Center’s graduating class also has “strong resilience under pressure,” said SLC Principal Ginger Sleep. She said each student has unique strengths and positive qualities, adding that the Class of 2019 “has truly captured my heart!”
“I have appreciated how they’ve become more independent, responsible and mature over the last year,” Sleep said. “I can’t wait to see where they go and what they do with their lives.”
Sleep said she knows they will lead and grow even more — and she’ll be cheering for them.
“That’s what we do in our SLC family,” Sleep said. “We never give up on each other.”
Sunday’s graduation ceremonies will be particularly bittersweet for the two principals, as it will be the final one for each. Kuhn is retiring this summer, while Sleep will focus full-time on her position as special services director and no longer be the SLC principal.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Sleep said.
Over the past seven years, Sleep said she’s become more aware of each young adult’s social and emotional needs.
“My love, compassion, and empathy for every student has grown exponentially,” she said, noting the battles students wage nowadays are far more difficult than she experienced in high school.
But she said she’s also learned the school has a lot to offer every student, with support, intervention and shoring up hope for the future.
“I will miss the SLC students and staff tremendously, but believe I’m going out on a high note,” Sleep said. “I would do anything for them, and to say it’s been a powerful and joyful journey would be an understatement.”
Sleep noted that she and Kuhn started their principal positions at the same time, and now are leaving them the same year.
As Kuhn prepares to retire, he said the Class of 2019 is a good one to finish his career in education. He met some of the students when he first moved to Powell; at the time, they were sixth-graders. To now watch them graduate “will always make this a very special class for me.”
Kuhn never expected to leave Kansas during his career, but being the PHS principal “has been the greatest opportunity of my career in education,” he said.
“I don’t know if there is any better community in the United States for supporting education, holding our children to high standards and developing the work ethic that a person needs to be successful,” Kuhn said. “I feel like the luckiest guy alive to find Powell High School.”
Co-valedictorians Lucy Sullivan and Alan Merritt will speak at the Powell High School graduation ceremony on Sunday.
Both seniors have a long list of academic achievements and success. Sullivan and Merritt each scored 35 on the ACT — just one point shy of a perfect score. In addition, they were both named National Merit Finalists and maintained perfect 4.0 GPAs at Powell High School while taking classes at Northwest College and staying involved in extracurricular activities.
Both said they’re honored to be selected as co-valedictorians after working hard during their years in Powell schools.
For Merritt, highlights of his time at PHS were extracurricular activities, including cross country, robotics and track.
“I have made good friends and gained a lot of valuable life lessons, like hard work and perseverance,” Merritt said.
Some of his most memorable experiences were attending the World Championship Robotics Tournament and achieving All-State honors in cross country, he said.
Sullivan also enjoyed participating in extracurricular activities, which included speech and debate, theater and the National Honor Society.
“Looking back, the best parts of high school were the times I spent with people,” Sullivan said. “The plays, bus trips and games spent with friends and classmates really tend to crowd out the long nights doing homework.”
Sullivan said she’s been influenced by her friends as much as the adults in her life.
“Everything I am today is because of the people that have been in my life,” she said.
Sullivan thanked her family for giving her all of their support and good music taste, as well as her fellow students “for making high school fun.” She also said she appreciates the teachers and coaches who helped push her over the years.
Merritt said he was inspired and influenced by his former computer science teachers, Judith and Rick LaPlante, as well as his good friends, Rhett and Hattie Pimentel.
“I am very grateful for the Powell school system itself,” Merritt added. “By going to school here, I have been blessed with an education that I would not have received anywhere else.”
He is the son of Ladell and Jeanna Merritt. This summer, Merritt will leave for a two-year mission to Japan for his church. Afterward, he plans on attending Utah State University to study mechanical engineering.
Sullivan is the daughter of Brian and Kristie Sullivan. She received the STARR scholarship and will attend Michigan State University, where she will study genetics and microbiology.
When asked if they had any advice for younger students, Merritt said, “Have confidence in yourself. If you don’t, at least pretend that you do.”
Sullivan encouraged students to find people they enjoy being around and things they like to do.
“Try to enjoy school, as much as you can,” she said.