DAYTON — Melanie Lengerich didn’t have much time. She had one year to fit in socially, one year to get herself academically as ready as possible for college and one year to have the high school experience she craved for so long.
Tongue River High School gave her all that and more.
Lengerich — who was honored as TR’s valedictorian Sunday — needed just one word to accurately describe her inaugural and final year in Dayton.
“Welcoming,” she said.
Lengerich grew up in Wyoming in the towns of Elk Mountain and Pinedale prior to moving to Grand Junction, Colorado, after her parents divorced. Lengerich wasn’t used to the bigger city, the crowded high school and the lack of personal interactions.
“I needed to change,” Lengerich said. “It wasn’t entirely working out for me to be down there anymore. I wasn’t going to reach my full potential down there.”
So Lengerich elected to live full time with her father just northeast of Sheridan; however, Lengerich still didn’t feel like she could blossom at Sheridan High School.
That left TR’s valedictorian with one last chance to find the right fit. She did so in Dayton.
“I came here, it was best decision I ever made,” Lengerich said. “I’m so happy to be here. All the teachers are phenomenal and the students are so open.”
Lengerich hit a buzzer beater, of sorts. She’d birdied the 18th hole. She walked off with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
So it was only natural for her to finish her valedictorian speech in similar fashion.
Lengerich was more than prepared for her special night Sunday; however, draft one of her address didn’t resonate in front of the mirror as well as she would have hoped. So in the waning moments, Lengerich rewrote it.
“That part about the 11th-hour rings true,” Lengerich said. “I finished two hours before I came (to graduation). I did work pretty hard on it for the past two days, and I did have a speech that I worked on for about two weeks before, but I just hated it. … It was more of cliche, we-can-do-it speech. It lacked the personal touch that I felt like this school gave to me.”
With tear-filled eyes, Lengerich hit the right note. She presented in front of family, friends, teachers, classmates and 19 other graduates.
But the 20 students that will forever have TR Eagle blood in their veins weren’t the only ones saying goodbye to their high school hallways.
Principal Mark Fritz will also move on after taking a job in Glenrock, and his final senior class, much to his surprise, chose him as the keynote speaker.
“The kids know I don’t like public speaking, so they knew it was an uphill,” Fritz said. “Jenna (Keller) came in and asked me, and I was like, ‘No, no, how about this person or how about this person.’”
The two reenacted the back-and-forth much to the delight of the attendees Sunday night. After recommending about a dozen alternatives, Fritz gave in and appeased the graduates that will forever hold a special place in his heart.
“I started with them in sixth grade. I have been with them for so long I’m close to all of them,” Fritz said. “It just means a lot when you get to see kids grow from sixth grade on and who they become and the good people they are. It’s meaningful.”
TR’s salutatorian, Mary Miller, added to the special day, recounting her high school experience, and Nikki Perfetti played and sang “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw to enhance the night even more — a night Lengerich, Fritz and 19 other Eagles will never forget.