This year’s graduating class of W.F. West High School was a benchmark for an initiative the Chehalis School District and its partners in the community embarked on in 2013, when the students who would graduate this year were in fourth grade.
The goal was to increase the percentage of W.F. West students who go on to earn college degrees or certifications from 20% to 60%, of the 2022 graduating class.
The 2022 graduating class exceeded expectations: 100% of the 192 graduating seniors had been accepted to a post-secondary program as of graduation day on Saturday.
Many people contributed to that success, but none as dedicated and influential as Kevin Smith, the recipient of the Chehalis School Board 2022 Award of Excellence.
The Chehalis School Board votes to select a recipient of the award every year, “But in this case, I feel entitled to say it’s also with the endorsement of this class and this community,” said Chehalis School Board Director J. Vander Stoep, who presented the award to Smith on behalf of the school board during W.F. West’s graduation ceremony on Saturday.
“When I see this class of ’22 out here, it just makes my heart warm,” Smith told the graduating seniors on Saturday. “You’ve achieved so much in a very difficult time. And I know we are all so proud of you. You're an amazing group and you have a very bright future.”
After accepting the award Saturday, Smith thanked his wife and his three daughters, as well as the Chehalis School Board, the Chehalis Foundation and those who partnered with the Chehalis Student Achievement Initiative.
“I don't think there's a school district in the state that does as much to support college and career readiness than the Chehalis School District, and I am so proud to be a part of this team. It's just been an amazing experience for me,” Smith said.
In addition to his involvement in the Chehalis Student Achievement Initiative, Smith and his family were thanked for their contributions to the Chehalis Foundation, which made multiple city improvements — including the Gail and Carolyn Shaw Aquatics Center and the Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library — possible.
“Kevin and his wife, Karen … Kevin’s brothers, Orin and Michael, and sister, Vicki, have contributed enormous resources through the Chehalis Foundation for you and for our community. But Kevin has been the hands and the feet and the head of their donations. And all of it boils down to benefits for you and your future,” Vander Stoep said to the graduates.
Orin Smith, who died in 2018 at the age of 75, is the namesake of Orin Smith Elementary School and is remembered as a prolific philanthropist who supported dozens of projects and causes in Lewis County and beyond.
The Smith family grew up in a small house near the courthouse in Chehalis “that is now a paved-over parking lot,” Vander Stoep said.
“They didn't have much money. But through hard work, and talent, they rose to achieve the American Dream,” Vander Stoep said.
Kevin Smith doesn’t live in Chehalis anymore and his children don’t attend school in the Chehalis School District; but nevertheless, Smith and his family have donated significant resources and thousands of hours to projects that benefit Chehalis students.
“So why is he doing it? Because the Smiths feel that this community supported them when they were growing up and they are paying this forward. The American Dream has two parts: one is to rise up to a level higher than the last generation, but it also has a second part, and that is when you've done that, you have an obligation to pay it forward to the next generation,” said Vander Stoep. “And that's what the Smith family has done for you and for this community.”
Smith ended his remarks Saturday with a message of encouragement to the graduating class of 2022.
“Your opportunities are boundless. I truly believe that each and every one of you can accomplish anything in this world that you set your mind to. You're all capable of doing great things,” he said, adding a couple pieces of advice before leaving the stage: “Always give your very best, whatever you decide to do. Be a good friend. Be a good family member. Get involved in your community. Give back when you can — it feels so great to do so. Be proud of who you are. Be honest with yourself. Something that's really important: never forget where you came from. Just like me, once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat.”