“If you ain’t first, you’re last”: CHS class of 2021 graduates 76

by May 30, 2021Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da



One Feather Staff


With a class motto (“If you ain’t first, you’re last”) taken from a popular Will Ferrell movie, the Cherokee High School (CHS) Class of 2021 tackled many obstacles with tenacity and humor.  A total of 76 students walked across the stage during the annual commencement exercise held at Ray Kinsland Stadium on the morning of Saturday, May 29.

Dustin Pheasant waves to family and friends during the processional at the start of Cherokee High School’s commencement exercises on the morning of Saturday, May 29 at Ray Kinsland Stadium. Pheasant is set to enter Project Search at Southwestern Community College. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

“The goals set by this class, individually and collectively, and the work ethic they exhibit, convey they live their motto,” Dr. Debora Foerst, CHS principal, said during opening remarks.  “But, I want us to consider this quote through a different lens this morning.  Be first, but be first in things that matter…so, be the first to forgive.  Be the first to give up your seat.  Be the first to do the right thing.  Be the first to stand up for justice.  Be the first to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  Be the first to talk to the lonely.  Be the first to encourage others.  Be the first to serve your elders.  Be the first to conserve and protect our natural resources.  Be first.”

She spoke to the strengths of the Class of 2021, both academically and otherwise.  “We have many who struggled.  They struggled because they lost a loved one during this time.  They lost their normalcy, or they lost themselves.  But, they are still here preparing to walk across this stage in spite of those struggles, maybe because of those struggles.”

Dr. Foerst told the crowd gathered that the Class of 2021 ties for the largest in school history and had the highest number of students graduating with honors ever (27) and the most National Honor Society members (29).

Jonathan Frady, a multi-sport athlete who graduated with high honors and as a member of the National Honor Society, gives remarks in his position as class vice president.

Jonathan Frady, a multi-sport athlete who graduated with high honors and as a member of the National Honor Society, gave remarks in his position as class vice president.  “In my opinion, as a whole, you guys are the best parent group Cherokee High School has ever seen.  Even though we may all act like we’re grown and like we know it all, we need you now more than ever.  To all the kids here in the stands today – listen to your parents.  At times, they may seem clueless on the subject at hand, but they are right 90 percent of the time.”

He went on to praise his fellow students whom he called “so diversely talented” and noted, “…even a pandemic couldn’t stop us.”

Shalyn Barker, Class of 2021 valedictorian, said in her address, “All good things must come to end.  I am immensely proud of our class.  Not only have we survived senioritis but also a global pandemic.  I believe that our class has truly defined the word resilient.  We went months learning virtually and having to stay home without seeing each other.”

Of her fellow students, Barker, who will attend N.C. State University in the fall as a Park Scholar, said, “Talent abounds in these seats behind me.  No doubt we have a future Chief, doctor, lawyer, skilled worker, nurse, entrepreneur, artist, musician, and teacher all within our class.  So, I challenge each of you to follow the path that God has laid before you and strive for greatness.”

Maya Cruz, Class of 2021 salutatorian, will attend Stanford University this fall.  She said in her address, “I will be a first-generation college student and the first in my family to attend a university. What they say about high school is true – it does go by fast.  But, something they don’t tell you is how much it will shape you into the person you are.”

Shaylyn Barker, right, Class of 2021 valedictorian, shares an embrace with her father, Craig Barker, CHS assistant principal, after he presents her with a diploma.

She added, “We can all look back on the person we were when we started high school.  We were just kids – kids who did not know how beautiful and scary the world could be.  In high school, I have experienced many things – love, heartbreak, death, and life.  We’ll all probably change greatly within these next few years no matter what path we go on.”

The movie “Shrek” was a favorite of Cruz’s growing up as it was one of a few that she owned.  “One of my favorite quotes from that movie is when Shrek and Donkey are arguing.  Shrek says, ‘Ogres have layers.  Onions have layers.  Do you get it?  We both have layers.’  Then Donkey says, ‘You know, not everyone likes onions.’  In life, you will constantly change and get new layers.  Many people will only know you by your old layers or just your new ones and not you as a whole.  Some people may not like you for your layers at all, and there is nothing you can do about it.  At the end of the day, we’re all onions – stinky and someone’s going to cry.”

Several awards were presented during Saturday’s event including the following:

  • NAIWA Award, presented by Loretta Bolden, to Shalyn Barker and Maya Cruz
  • American Legion Outstanding Student Award, presented by Commander Lew Harding, to Shalyn Barker and Destiny Mills
  • Jerry Wolfe Gadugi Award, presented by Vangie Stephens and Sky Sampson of the WCU Cherokee Center, to Jonathan Frady and Rosa Reyes

The CHS of 2021 includes the following:

Shalyn Juanita Barker

Maya Rose Cruz

Dr. Debora Foerst, CHS principal, left, presents a diploma to Maya Cruz who was the Class of 2021 salutatorian.

Anthony James Allison

Desiree Maria Amos

Braylon Alexander Arch

Ethan Robert Armachain

Cassandra Louise Bennett

Darius Isaiah Bigwitch

Dawsin Edward Bradley

Judson Tallamon Gregory Bradley

Emma Grace Broom

David Alexander Bushyhead

Alexandra Ruth Carlisle

Eeyannah Danna Martha Virginia Catolster-Sexton

Samantha Kaitlyne Cole

John Davidian Crowe

James Lee Davis

Ayden Issac Evans

Jonathan David Frady

Marcela Reylene Reyes Garcia

Devy Rae George

Rhyan Janeese Girty

Jarius Jaylin Ray Gloyne

Leona Elizabeth Goodson

Jacob Logan Hill

Siah Kenyon Holiday

Ryanne Braeleigh Junaluska

Michael Zane Kalonaheskie

Hayley Danielle Keever

Aiyana Faith Lambert

Ayla Elizabeth Landers

Kayla Rain Larch

Teja Ann Littlejohn

Dreyton Long

Kalista Amelia Luther

David Isaiah Maney

Mattie Elizabeth Maney

Jordyn Blake Martin

Richard Stillwell Mata

Serbando Reyna Mata

Destiny Dawn Mills

Michael Henry Otter

Shashoni Cheyenne Panther

Rocky James Mason Peebles

Caden Douglas Pheasant

Dustin D. Pheasant

Thomas Eugene Pheasant

Lorenzo Antonio Ramirez

Adam Benjamin Reed

Elizabeth Jasmine Reyes

Maria Guadalupe Reyes

Rosa Antonia Reyes

Christina Bell Saunooke

Isaac Dalton Saunooke

Tamika Nicole Shell

Dakota James Siweumptewa

Naomi Lucille Smith

Keelie Brooke Smoker

Abbigail Rose Space

Hunter Bryant Swayney

Braden Trent Taylor

Zayne Omar Taylor-Hernandez

Derek Marshall Thomas

Daniel Earnest Thompson

Jensen Danielle Thompson

Deante Toineeta

Tariq Shaheed Conseen Underwood

Zoey Cierra Walkingstick

Felicity Amber Watty

John Anderson Watty

Syrena Ladelle West

Calista Collette Wolfe

Emma Rae Wolfe

Rashonda Lakita Wolfe

Trent Luis Nelson Wolfe