Meet four of the Magic Valley’s smallest graduating classes of 2017.
At Castleford High School, we photographed the seniors during an early-May English class, asking them to select books related to what they want to study. (Some followed the guideline more loosely than others.) At Hagerman High, seniors gathered before an afternoon awards ceremony in the new gymnasium.
Murtaugh High’s principal opted to have his seniors go to a nearby boat launch for their group photo — a spot they've frequented for geology excursions and other school trips. The seniors skipped rocks along the Snake River and caught lizards between interviews.
We took Oakley Junior/Senior High’s seniors out to the elementary playground to have a little fun before they walked the halls of the elementary school one last time. In caps and gowns, with celebratory music playing from speakers, they gave high-fives to eager grade-schoolers.
Goodbye, past. Hello, future.
Castleford's Class of 2017: 20
Jessica Knott, 18, was voted “most likely to live in my parents’ basement for my whole life.” It’s a class joke; Knott already moved out of her parents' house in January.
When Tiffani Mahannah, 17, joined the girls basketball team, she was inspired by her physical education teacher and basketball coach, Marci Howard. “Marci kind of just kept pushing me,” said Mahannah, who now wants to be an elementary teacher. “She’s like, ‘Don’t give up on yourself just because of physical (attributes), 'cause you can make up for it in your skills.'” Mahannah is just 5 feet 2.5 inches tall, but Howard “never gave up on me,” she said. “I look up to her as never giving up on anybody.”
Jade Etelu, 18, will look for a rental that accepts her two Great Pyrenees while she attends College of Southern Idaho in the fall. Etelu breeds and trains the dogs as guardians for sheep — the 9-month-old male named Judge is “probably 145-150 pounds.”
Dylan Neimeyer, 17, rode a medical helicopter to Boise after an ATV accident in May 2016. The year before, his friend Jake Kaes died in an ATV accident. Neither had been wearing helmets. It was a tough lesson to learn but inspired Neimeyer’s senior project on helmet safety. He raised more than $1,000 for helmets the local sheriff’s department provides to those who can’t afford them.
Caleb Knudson, 18, loves history. “My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Kyles, got me really interested — just the way he talked about it,” said Knudson, who may decide to become a museum curator. But first, he’ll take his love of military history into the Navy, where he plans to save money for college.
Rasmus Dinesen, 18, an exchange student from Denmark, didn't get to pick his destination. Although Castleford is much smaller than he'd expected, Dinesen still got to play football as he’d hoped. “I’m actually glad it’s a small school because then I get more play time,” he said. He hopes to play football for a U.S. college.
Lindsey Drinkall, 17, regrets her freshman year. “I wasn’t really into (getting) good grades,” she said. Earning a C in an online Spanish class set back her grade-point average for more scholarships, so she retook the class her senior year. Drinkall wants to go to Boise State University and become an anesthesiologist.
Nitillia Ramos, 18, got bored in her sophomore year when she had a free hour in her daily schedule. Someone suggested she become a teacher’s aide, so she helped out with children from kindergarten to second grade. Her love for teaching them behavioral lessons led to her decision to study clinical child psychology at College of Southern Idaho.
Murtaugh Class of 2017: 16 (sort of)
Joseph McConaha, 16, is a senior — kind of. In seventh grade he got into “8 in 6” — a program that allows him to complete two years of junior high, four years of high school and two years of college in six years. By the end of this school year, he’ll have completed all requirements for a high school diploma. But instead of graduating early, he’ll attend Murtaugh High School and earn discounted college credits through College of Southern Idaho online. He can then earn an associate degree in an education-related field before he graduates in 2019. Meanwhile, he'll be active in basketball, track, cheerleading, Business Professionals of America and National Honor Society.
Gerardo Martinez, 18, considers many of the guys in his class as brothers. They play disc golf, swim and hike together; they’ve even gotten in trouble together. “Freshman year, we all ditched out of our weights class, and we got caught,” Martinez recalled. The boys were collectively lectured by the principal and the physical education teacher after they were discovered in the locker room.
Jolie Hansen, 18, and Abbra Larson, 18, had similar embarrassing moments in kindergarten — they both peed their pants because they were terrified of the teacher, Terese Cossette. “I got yelled at by the teacher and she put me in the corner,” Hansen recalled. She was too scared to ask to go to the bathroom. Larson, on a separate occasion, was also “too intimidated to ask.” But while they remember Cossette’s intensity, “She set us a good foundation for respecting a teacher as a good authority figure,” Hansen said.
Kylie Kraus, 18, found she had a lot to learn about Murtaugh when she moved there from Pennsylvania as a sophomore. Her online health class that year had more limited sexual education than she’d received at her former home. “All the info was medically accurate,” she said. “But if I hadn’t taken health in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t have known anything” — particularly about sexually transmitted diseases or condom use. This inspired her senior project on sexual education in Idaho.
Spencer Adams, 18, failed something like 18 classes in his freshman year. But dropping out wasn’t an option according to his parents. “I figured they either were going to kill me, or I could graduate,” Adams said. So instead of being a failure, he decided to make up the classes. “The fact that I’m here amazes everybody.”
Zakery Hausner’s favorite place at Murtaugh High: The football field. But the 17-year-old couldn’t play this year, largely because his doctor discouraged it. He’s had six concussions, the last occurring in the last game of his junior year, against Oakley. “I was trying to run the ball and me and some other guy hit head to head,” Hausner said. “We forgot all the plays after that.” He still has memory problems — like that phone he left atop his car before heading onto the interstate.
Maci Dimond, 18, and Jolie Hansen, 18, had a rocky start when Dimond moved to Murtaugh in second grade. Hansen and her friends bullied Dimond and nicknamed her “Stupid,” and “they told me I would have to go through an initiation to be their friend,” Dimond said. But after two years, Hansen’s cousin brought the two together. They’ve been good friends ever since, and Hansen has apologized multiple times.
Maci Dimond, 18, won the Miss Mini-Cassia pageant and will compete for Miss Idaho in June. Her platform: reviving the arts in school. Dimond taught a dance class for an after-school program her sophomore and junior years. She also received the Distinguished Young Women of the Magic Valley scholarship; nobody from her school had competed for it before.
Adrian Gil, 18, won a $1,500-per-semester College Assistance Migrant Program scholarship from Boise State University — but he won’t be using it. Gil worried about adjusting to a big city and big classes. “I went with my gut, and I chose CSI,” he said. He wants to earn a business management degree and open a mechanic shop in Twin Falls.
Oakley’s Class of 2017: 35
When Abigail Fowler, 17, moved to Oakley from Woodland, Calif., seven or eight years ago, she noticed a difference in the personal attention she got from staff. They discovered she had mild autism, which was a game changer in her school career. “Before, most teachers couldn’t really realize it was more than me just struggling in school,” Fowler said. She’d distrusted others and had a hard time finding a social place or grasping concepts explained in a certain way. But with help she overcame her biggest challenge, socialization, and went from failing to an A-and-B student. “I don’t really allow it to define myself,” Fowler said. “It just means I have to look at things from a different perspective to get it to click in my head.”
Stockton Robinson, 18, will probably be remembered for his humor and his smart aleck comments, his friends say. He and Alex Contreras were voted “most talkative in class” for the school yearbook. Back in elementary school, Robinson recalls being something of a troublemaker. Once he climbed the fence behind the elementary to get some killdeer eggs and another friend told on him. “And then," Robinson said, "I fake cried to get out of the principal’s office.”
Alex Contreras, 18, said junior high was the worst part of school. “We had more homework than we do now in high school,” he said. But the worst? Getting put on the seventh-grade basketball team as an eighth-grader. “That was a confidence killer,” said Debbie Critchfield, a school district employee who lives in Oakley. “It was definitely a slash in my heart,” Contreras said — especially after he’d been on the eighth-grade basketball team as a seventh-grader. He gave up basketball in his sophomore year so he could focus on grades.
Dixie Whittle’s dream car is a restored Camaro, painted yellow with black racing stripes. And the 18-year-old hopes to do it herself someday. Whittle learned some mechanical skills from her father and uncle and plans to take them to the next level by studying to become a mechanical or automotive engineer. “I really like math and science, but I couldn’t handle being a doctor,” the class salutatorian said. “I don’t want to be responsible with lives.”
Lyndi Kimber, 17, has had six surgeries since seventh grade on both hips, both knees and her neck — twice, for a growth. “Bionic woman, that’s me,” she said. The problems were ones she was born with, worsened by dancing and cheerleading — including painful bone spurs and a condition in which her kneecaps popped out of place. “I have a super-high pain tolerance,” Kimber said, so it didn’t stop her from participating in dance, rodeo and cheerleading. Although she doesn’t imagine she’ll get back into those activities in college, Kimber wants to be a high school cheer coach someday.
If repercussions weren’t a factor, what rule would Cecilia Lemus, 18, have broken before she left high school? “I’ve always wanted to have a food fight,” Lemus said. She imagines she’d probably go for tomato sauce, but she'd also be happy enough to use those school cafeteria “crispitos” — a kind of crisp burrito that has “no taste."
Carston Lind, 18, is nervous about his upcoming two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lind will leave July 12 for Long Beach, Calif., where he’ll go door to door teaching people about his church. While he’s worried about the crowds, he’ll also miss his family farm that grows wheat, potatoes, beans and barley. “My favorite part is the harvest,” Lind said. He gets to drive a combine. “I just listen to music and enjoy it because I know time is short here."
Bryton Cooper, 18, dislocated his kneecap while putting in work hours for his senior project on athletic training. It happened while playing a physical education version of the “sharks and minnows” pool game with a group of fifth-graders he was teaching. “It was a really intense game,” he said.
Hagerman’s Class of 2017: 22
Gabriela Gonzalez, 19, has worked at the Hagerman Valley Inn on Friday afternoons and weekends for the past three years. “Basically, it’s just one person working, and we’d do everything,” she said. Her favorite part of the job is meeting guests from all over the U.S. — even from Australia, Germany and China. Some of them come just once a year, but she usually remembers their names and faces.
Chance Bell, 17, was one grade letter away from being a fifth in the four-way tie for valedictorian. What made the difference: a "B" in an online German class during his junior year. The salutatorian imagines the class would have been easier in person, but he still hopes to use the language when he travels to Germany someday.
Maria Gomez, 18, (not pictured) worked at Gem Veterinary Clinic in Gooding for eight months, assisting with surgeries. One of the worst scenarios she had to witness: amputating the legs of a paralyzed dog. Gomez said it was a good, albeit nauseating, learning experience. She later adopted a pit bull named Honey from the clinic. She’ll take the dog to Twin Falls and attend the College of Southern Idaho this fall while living with her sister Alma.
Taylor Pearson, 18, lives with his high school principal, Mark Kress. The two aren’t related, but “I’d rather stay with the Kresses than with my grandparents,” Pearson said. He’d moved away from Hagerman for a couple of years with his parents. But Pearson missed the school and transferred back from Rimrock Jr./Sr. High two weeks before his junior year ended. Kress, his former Scoutmaster, is “a really direct person” inside and outside of school, Pearson said. He figures living with the principal has encouraged him to stay out of trouble.
Cole Kress, 18, says living with Taylor Pearson is kind of like having another brother — Kress’ older brother and sister have been out of the house awhile. But his pet peeve? Pearson is a big snacker and frequently spills candies and chips in and under the couch, Kress said. “He only eats junk food, but he’s so thin.”
Bryce Flammer, 18, got called into the principal’s office with Cole Kress — the principal's son — during a physics class their junior year. The two were attempting to play chess in class. Flammer misses the chess club the school had when he was a freshman, but these days he’s more into playing "Magic: The Gathering" with a couple of his classmates.
Samantha McCrorey, 18, was surprised during a May 15 awards ceremony when she received a $3,000 Loren and Sylvia G. Wetzel Scholarship. “I applied for it, but I wasn’t expecting that much money,” she said. Those funds, plus a $1,000 alumni scholarship and a $1,500 two-year basketball scholarship, will help her when she attends Northwest College in Wyoming to play basketball. McCrorey has played since fourth grade but nearly quit her freshman year — until coach Katie Knight persuaded her otherwise. “I believed she could do it,” Knight said. “I wanted her to believe it, too.”
What did Cameron Locklar, 18, plan to do the day after her May 25 graduation? “I’m most likely to come back,” she said in mid-May. “I’m very attached.” Nongraduating students get out of school June 1. Locklar — who plans to study art education at Utah State University — imagined she’d go to her usual haunt, the art room, and say goodbye to her friends.