Final thoughts

Elise Hansen isn't sad about leaving Ashland High School.

That's a microcosm of the class 2012 collective attitude, says AHS Principal Michelle Zundel.

"They have not waited to become adults before starting the work they really want to do," she says, scrolling through a list of her 260 graduating seniors' extracurricular activities and personal achievements.

The graduation ceremony for those students is today at 6:15 p.m. in Lithia Park.

Hansen, graduating as a valedictorian, plans to attend Pomona College in the Los Angeles area. It'll either be a double major in piano performance and neuroscience, or a piano minor, depending on the workload, most likely, she says.

"For most of this year, I've been very eager to finish," says Hansen, who tutors students at the high school and privately. "I'm not feeling very sentimental in the ways that a lot of other people are."

After first through eighth grades, Hansen transferred from Waldorf education-based The Siskiyou School for her freshman year at AHS, and found the transition exciting, she says.

"I was ready to move to a bigger environment with more students around me," she says.

Hasen, who eventually wants to complete medical school, says, "Harvard would be fun."

Zundel says what stands out most about the school's seven valedictorians, is their passions they pursue outside of school.

Cristian Ramirez

Another valedictorian leaving AHS today is Cristian Ramirez, with a 105 percent in English class.

Ramirez moved to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was in fourth grade.

"It was really hard, because I didn't know the language," he says.

Attending Phoenix Elementary School, he spoke no English, but knew the language well by about seventh grade, he says. It was a monumental moment, says Ramirez, because he no longer had to take English and Secondary Language side-classes.

Ramirez plans to attend Southern Oregon University and pursue a degree in computer science, he says, and continue working with Academia Latina, a weeklong summer youth academy program for Latino students, at SOU.

The oldest of five brothers, Ramirez said he feels pressure to succeed.

"I came to this country with my family to take advantage of the opportunities that my parents never had in Mexico," he says.

Ramirez says he still struggles writing in English sometimes, because he thinks in Spanish, and hasn't mastered how to think about translating it before writing.

Both students said the teachers at AHS were the highlight of their fours years at the school.

"You can't be afraid to become friends with your teachers here," says Hansen, whose been playing classical piano for more than seven years and is starting to dabble more deeply into jazz music.

"It's really important to think of the teacher as more than just a teacher," she says, "And remember not to be afraid of challenging yourself."

Zundel, who was working nonstop Thursday making sure every senior was on track to walk today, said this class has something special about it.

"They've experienced setback, death of parents, the gritty stuff of life, and transcended it," she said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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