A gown, a mortarboard and a selfie stick

Journal photo by Ron Agnir Courtney Elaine Close uses a “selfie stick” to take self portraits at the Berkeley Springs High School 126th Annual Commencement Program on Thursday.
Journal photo by Ron Agnir
Courtney Elaine Close uses a “selfie stick” to take self portraits at the Berkeley Springs High School 126th Annual Commencement Program on Thursday.

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — With the benefit of “perspective and outlook,” the members of the Berkeley Springs High School class of 2015 will see the world very differently in a few years.

That was the message class treasurer Alec Kidwell conveyed to his classmates Thursday evening during commencement exercises in the school’s football stadium.

“Look around you,” Kidwell said, “These people care about you and are people you might have to depend on one day. You will have to do things in life you might not like.


“But I challenge you to change your outlook. After we’ve officially graduated, everything will look 100 percent different. Perspective and outlook. Character, it is said, is doing the thing we’re supposed to do when it should be done whether we feel like doing it or not. When you are faced with a challenge, change your perspective so you enjoy it. And you may possibly change your opinion. Enjoy life. God bless America and the class of 2015.”

The class had three sets of twins. Alice Younker is the mother of Emily and Hannah Barnes. They both want to go into nursing. Younker was excited about attending her first BSHS graduation ceremony. One will attend Allegheny College, and one will attend Hagerstown Community College. Hannah wants to be an ER nurse. Emily is thinking of social work or registered nursing.

Younker said she started taking online classes in human services because she didn’t attend college. “I love it, and that made Emily want to maybe go into social work. Hannah just wants to help people and has a big heart.”

Younker is going through empty nest syndrome, as were many parents. She feels like she’s prepared them for 18 years but is without a job.

“I’ve been crying for a month already. I’ve taken care of them so long, and now they’re walking across that stage,” Younker said. “Emily wants to commute every day and not leave home. Hannah will have a dorm, so she is trying to talk Emily into going with her. They’ve never been apart before.”

English teacher Heather Lorigan also urged students to enjoy life and to continue learning. She said they are not finished, even if they don’t pursue higher education. Everyone is always learning in life, as she did with her first class as a teacher a few years ago.

Rachael Kesecker is the 2015 salutatorian. The usually smiling student choked back tears as she urged students to stay connected to their roots and their community well after they spread their wings.

“We are endlessly thankful for the guidance and support – and of course, discipline – of parents, teachers, friends and family. Our community is loving and supportive. The ties we have to Berkeley Springs should not be severed. Let’s be proud of coming from West Virginia and achieving so many things even when we faced many challenges.”

She said over the past few months, it began to resonate that after this incredible journey, and transition into the next, they will go their separate ways.

“For the past 13 years of our lives, we’ve been growing up together. That is heartbreaking and terrifying to think we won’t be together like this again. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids to be stuck with. We are different people but somehow managed to get along extremely well, and I’m thankful for that. It’s a bittersweet day.”

She said they need to focus not only on their own happiness, but need to be conscientious of how their actions affect others. “Let’s be understanding and forgiving, patient and kind. Avoid judging others as much as possible and focus on bettering ourselves.”

Kesecker attended the Wind Dance Farm homeschooling group when she was younger; they met two days a week to learn about science, nature, reading and writing. They had a farm with animals and agricultural pursuits. Then, she went through the Morgan County school system.

“Berkeley Springs High School has been a great experience for me,” Kesecker said. “I’m sad to be leaving. But I’m excited to go on to bigger things. I look forward to meeting the people college will bring to me.”

Her grandfather was an influence. He taught her to strive to be her best and not worry about the things she can’t control.

“Also, my older sister Nativa was an inspiration. She was salutatorian two years ago. She set the bar high. It pushed me to be as good as I can be. I’m really glad she was there setting those goals. And my parents were very supportive without being overbearing about it.”

Kesecker plans to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing at West Virginia University and go on to graduate school to earn a master’s in midwifery.

Kinsey Reed, 17, is a native of Berkeley Springs and the 2015 valedictorian. She’s a member of the five-time all-state track and field team, this year’s state champs. In fact, today she will compete again in Charleston.

During her speech, the AP scholar jokingly thanked everyone for voting her to be the class valedictorian in the popularity contest. She thanked the moms for giving birth to them and dads for watching.

She feels a little uncomfortable calling herself an adult just yet. But, she said, she’s part of one of the best classes from Berkeley Springs High School.

“Even though we have so many diverse personalities, when we join together, we succeed. We have so many people planning to do or already doing great things. I can’t wait to hear the stories to come. I doubt any other valedictorian has had such complete confidence in their class. We will be the ones with understanding and forgiving hearts.”

She liked dancing her entire life, but said, “I was bad. I could keep the rhythm, but wasn’t flexible. In our family, we have a rule we have to do a team sport. I wanted either tennis or track. My brother did tennis. So, I did track.”

The first season, she said she wasn’t very good. But her coaches figured out she was good at long distance track. She did cross country, and worked her way up to third place in the state. She’s a multiple time all-state track and field runner.

The day before graduation, she was taking an advanced placement test for a college course. She was the drum line captain of the Berkeley Springs High School marching band, vice president of the Science National Honor Society, and president of the National Honor Society.

Her parents are Ken and Tally Reed of Reed’s Pharmacy. So, one might think she’d go into medicine or science. That’s not far from the truth. She knew she didn’t want to go the usual medical route, and she didn’t want to be a pharmacist. But, Reed has always been interested in the environment.

Reed was selected for a National Geographic student expedition in 2014 to Iceland to study climate change and geology.

She wants to be a veterinarian. She’ll enter WVU in the fall to study veterinary science and environmental protection.

“I knew I wanted to do something with nature, and was leaning toward environmental science,” Reed said. “But it didn’t feel like what I wanted to totally commit my life to. I realized the only thing that makes me happy, no fail, is animals.”

She likes to travel; so, she’s considering the Peace Corps. Through the Peace Corps, she can get a master’s degree.

“I could be productive and help people,” she said.

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