Log in

'Victorious': 280 Zizzers graduate with WPHS Class of '24


High School Principal Ryan Smith began Friday’s West Plains High School commencement ceremony by commenting on the challenges faced by this year's seniors, 280 in all.

“This class has faced unprecedented challenges throughout their high school journey and has emerged victorious," he said. "They have shown resilience, determination and an unwavering commitment to their education."

As the ceremony began, Smith also called for a moment of silence in memory of Wyatt Atkins, a student who died in July 2022 at age 16 from Coats Plus Syndrome, a genetic condition that shortens the lifespan of those it afflicts. Atkins' classmates also wore green ribbons to honor him.

West Plains R-7 Superintendent Dr. Wes Davis introduced school board members and administrators, and while congratulating the students on their achievements, also acknowledged they and their families might be overwhelmed by the rapid passage of time.

Davis himself had a graduate, son Justin Davis, and had the honor of handing his diploma to him.

"Graduates, it's not just your day. Even though we're here for you, it's not just your day,” Superintend Davis said, addressing the seniors. “It's a day for your families, your friends, your teachers, your loved ones, this is also their day, a milestone for them. Today is that milestone, a summation of your achievements that you've all worked for, yearned for, maybe even fought for. I can tell you right now your parents are saying 'How in the world is this happening? How did it happen so fast?' I can't tell you, because I'm struggling with it myself. It happens so fast."

"You know this milestone, this moment tonight, it's a reflection of what you've done. Your work, dedication, perseverance, the academic excellence you've achieved, but it's also about some lessons learned tonight," he continued, pointing out that book learning is important, but there were life experiences he hoped the graduates would carry with them as they move forward in their journeys.

"I encourage you to embrace the uncertainties ahead of you, because you have no idea what's in your future. But when you face adversity in the future, I will tell you, draw upon the strength that you've gained from the people around you,” Davis encouraged. “Be bold in your ambitions, compassionate in your interactions, and relentless in your pursuit of success. Don't just be successful. That's not what we want. Be compassionate citizens. The world desperately needs you right now. Your talent, your insights, and your empathy."

Student speaker Makenna Locke recalled some of the adversity she and her classmates had faced during their time as West Plains students, starting with historic flooding while they were in middle school that caused damage to the campus, and continuing with graduating eighth grade in the middle of a global pandemic, during which students attended classes remotely.

Kenzie Sandgren, another student speaker, also talked about those events, and other milestones like learning to drive, focusing on demonstrating resilience moving forward: "Over the past four years we have embarked on a journey of growth, discovery and transformation. A journey that would shape us into the individuals we are today. We have overcome challenges, embraced opportunities and forged friendships that will last a lifetime."


The Distinguished Zizzer Alumnus Award for 2024 was given to Missouri State University-West Plains Chancellor Dr. Dennis Lancaster, presented by school board President Cindy Tyree, who highlighted his accomplishments over the past 30 years as an educator and his dedication to family and community.

"Through his tireless efforts, he has touched the lives of countless individuals with compassion, integrity and service," Tyree reminded.

The Best Citizen Award is presented annually to one male and one female student, selected by faculty and students, and was given this year to Emma Worsham and George Fisher.

"These exemplary individuals embody the spirit of what it means to be a Zizzer, serving as model student citizens," Smith said. "Their commitment, active participation and dedication to both school and community have earned them this prestigious recognition.”

Top academic honors were also recognized. Class of 2024 salutatorian is Elias Curtis. The Salutatorian Award is bestowed on the student with the second-highest academic achievement, having not only one of the highest GPAs, but also meeting requirements of an honors certificate, scoring at least a 24 on the ACT and earning at least 28 class credits.

The honor of valedictorian was awarded to two students this year: Paige Sheridan and George Fisher, who tied for the highest academic honor.