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Paw Paw High School has 15 graduates in its final class

School to merge operations with Indian Creek in fall

Graduates hand flowers to their moms during the commencement Friday at Paw Paw High.
Graduates hand flowers to their moms during the commencement Friday at Paw Paw High.

PAW PAW – “Timothy Joseph McNally.”

With those words from Paw Paw School District 271 Superintendent Stan Adcock, the Paw Paw High School Class of 2019 salutatorian became the final student in the 117-year history of the eastern Lee County high school to receive a high school diploma that reads “Paw Paw High School."

The commencement exercise was the final one for the school. Starting in August, incoming freshmen through senior students now will make a 22-mile round trip to attend Indian Creek High School in Shabbona.

DeKalb, LaSalle and Lee County voters in and around Paw Paw approved a referendum in November to cease high school operations at its school.

“It’s pretty cool being the last class to graduate from here,” McNally said. “We’ll be the last [class] picture in the hallway, and that’s pretty neat.”

McNally, who also was class president, was among 15 students who bid farewell to the school. Anthony Castaldo was its final valedictorian.

“Paw Paw is not a large town, but the thing that makes it special is the love and care that the community has shown to each and every one of us,” Castaldo said.

For some of the graduates, trying to find a way to keep their yellow flower buds pinned to their purple graduation capes was the last difficult problem they had to solve inside the high school.

“It’s different, knowing that there will not be a high school next year,” McNally said. “Hopefully the kids will do good next year transitioning to a new school.”

The remaining high school student body will trade their Bulldogs purple and gold for Timberwolves red and black. Some Paw Paw students already had become Timberwolves; the school’s athletic department merged with Indian Creek at the beginning of this year.

Graduates Joshua Wiseman and Riley Oros said as the year wound to a close, there were plenty of bittersweet moments – not only for the class, but for the high school as a whole.

“It’s a weird feeling knowing that we’re the last ones out of here, after every other class that’s gone through,” Wiseman said.

“It’s cool knowing that we are the last graduating class,” Oros added. “It’s kind of sad at the same time. It’s emotional.”

Ken Cradduck graduated from Paw Paw High 64 years ago with the Class of 1955. He and 1998 graduate Sue Johnston attended in support of graduate Zachary Clayton.

“It hurts my heart,” Cradduck said, trying to hold back a tear. “The kids are getting so few.”

Cradduck grew up on a nearby farm.

“We all had a good, fun time," he said.

Johnston said she and several alumni and residents are hopeful they can have another high school in the town of 870 residents in the future, but she understood the need for change.

“We definitely love to have that sense of community pride and sense of togetherness here in Paw Paw,” Johnston said. “It’s kind of bitter to see them go and be part of Indian Creek, but at the same time, I’m excited for the students to be able to have more opportunity, more classes and just having a different experience getting to know different students.”

Castaldo has hopes that this may not be the end at Paw Paw.

“I am proud to soon be an alumni of Paw Paw High School, part of the last graduating class of Paw Paw High School for some time,” Castaldo said. “Whether that time be a few short years or forever, just know that the legacy of this school will last eternally in our hearts.”