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  • Writer's pictureashleylodato

Flood + fire + friendship

In the birth years of the Methow Valley Class of 2024 — 2005 and 2006 — Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the levees protecting New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain failed, flooding the city. Pope John Paul II died and was replaced by Pope Benedict XVI. Three Paypal employees created YouTube.

Before most of these kids could walk, the Tripod Complex fires burned 131,000 acres in the Methow Valley watershed. The following year J.K. Rowling wrote the penultimate book in the Harry Potter series and Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone.

By 2006, Facebook was open to anyone over the age of 13 with an email address, but that didn’t matter because the Class of 2024 would never use it anyway. Snapchat was founded when they were in kindergarten. In eighth grade, they signed up.

The summer after the Class of 2024 finished second grade, the Carlton Complex fire decimated 162,170 acres, including several class members’ homes. Just before fourth grade, the 11,220-acre Twisp River fire took the lives of three wildland fire fighters. Between fourth grade and high school graduation, an additional 291,232 acres of the Methow Valley watershed burned.

When the Class of 2024 was halfway through eighth grade, schools all over the world closed for two weeks, then six weeks, then the remainder of the school year. When the kids returned to school in the fall, newly ninth graders after having missed half of eighth grade, they wore masks and spent two days each week doing video classes from their kitchen counters, on Google Classroom, released just four years prior.

There has never been a time in these kids’ lives when the U.S. wasn’t involved in a war, or an intervention in a war. They have never known what it’s like to pass through an airport without taking off your shoes and belt, emptying your water bottle, and stepping into a body scanning machine. They have never known a world without school shootings and lockdown drills. They have never known a childhood without wildfire.

But here’s what they do know. They know how to read a map and how to find their way to a trailhead. They know how to feed horses, goats, pigs, and chickens. They know how to change snow tires and how to steer out of a skid. They know how to load a pack horse and whether a cloud on the horizon is a thunderhead or a fire blowing up. They know that the hours they’ve spent volunteering have made a difference in our community.

{How do you get 17-year-olds to hike to the top of a mountain on the first day of school to watch the sunrise? Who knows! But they did it.}

They also know that, politically and philosophically, they are a class divided, in a county divided, in a country divided. But rather than be riven by those differences, they set out at the beginning of their senior year to find — and create — common ground. Starting with a sunrise hike on the first day of school, continuing through an impromptu movie and barbecue night in the park, and culminating with a 3 a.m. setup of their senior prank, the Class of 2024’s bonding opportunities have been strategic. When faced with the decision about how they wanted to experience their final year together, they chose solidarity — a fitting lesson to launch the next chapter of their lives.

{The senior prank was the Methow Valley School District's first-ever petting zoo--which they set up at 2:45am.}

Watch the Methow Valley School District's Class of 2024 valedictorian, Leki Lodato Albright (my daughter--a better scholar than her mama ever was!), deliver her graduation speech HERE.

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